The aerial views painted by Carol Rhodes verge on abstraction. Flat planes of the land, most likely seen from an airplane, become the picture plane. A Scottish artist who recently had her first solo show in the U.S. at Brent Sikkema gallery in New York, Rhodes chooses vistas where nature and human enterprise contend. Sometimes a construction project seems to be underway.
Nature, in Rhodes' project, is often a flat field, while human industry is the mark that interrupts. In Rail and Woods, the rail is a single line cutting across a creamy, light green rectangle. For Road and Valley, the road quietly trespasses an umber plane. In other paintings, such as Park, the human structures can become more visually complex, and appear quite literally as biomorphic intrusions.
In all of Rhodes' work, one senses a specific time of day. The images may be generic but the light isn't; her Runway could be anywhere -- but you know it's late afternoon. Rhodes, a careful painter, has a strong and sensitive feeling for the places where ground is being broken, for fields of paint that are also fields by the airport, for the moment before the world goes away and the plane heads into the clouds.
Adam Cvijanovic paints a more distant and distanced world. In the back gallery at Bellwether, one of Williamsburg's more successful exhibition spaces, he installed one of his "extreme environments" -- a large wallpaper mural of glaciers titled Disko Bay. It's the kind of place few of us will visit. We'll only know these icebergs second-hand -- through movies, advertisements, magazines.
Although the images are literally rendered, they have an edgy unfamiliarity that's difficult to pin down. Certainly there's something taboo, in contemporary art, about grand vistas grandly portrayed. We are discomfited in a way Frederick Church's fans would not have been.
If Rhodes makes the ordinary beautiful, Cvijanovic seems, initially, to be making the beautiful ordinary. At first glance, his panoramas resemble the vistas that might cover the walls of some odd dentist's office or a theme diner. Cvijanovic has indeed worked as a commercial artist, and one of the disconcerting aspects of his project is that he leaves you uncertain which realm you're in, either commercial or "fine."
The longer you look at Disko Bay, the more the virtuosity of Civajnovic's color starts to sink in. You know you're not in anybody's office: but where are you? You're in Williamsburg, but the mural doesn't have to be. It's made of hundreds of panels painted on Tyvek, a synthetic product with the properties of both paper and fabric. These can be rolled up and, according to Cvijanovic, stored in a closet. It's a transportable environment that can be installed wherever the artist wants. Smart and subtle, this work takes the grand vista and makes it banal. Then beauty gets snuck back in.
After the cool, sly complexities of Cvijanovic's installation, it was bracing to see Susan Rabinowitz's paintings at Pierogi 2000, another top gallery in Williamsburg. Like Carol Rhodes, she's interested in the intersection of landscape and abstraction. But she's driven to this intersection from the opposite direction.
Paint, not place, is her point of departure; she works by pouring it on an unstretched canvas on her studio floor. She then tilts the canvas, the paint runs, and her accident-landscapes happen. Her strategy is risky, not just because it's out of her control. The results could easily seem indulgent or sentimental. Rabinowitz's paintings do not.
Untitled Landscape #2, one of two large canvases at Pierogi, consists of three strips of poured color, white, blue and green. Cloud, sky, land; a simple horizon line, a strange feeling of urgency, speed and conviction; an accident perfectly controlled: one is tempted to wonder how many paintings Rabinowitz had to toss out before this happened. One knows it doesn't matter.
ROBERT MARSHALL is an artist and writer who lives in New York.