Gallery Luisotti is pleased to announce the premier exhibition of Jacob Kaufman’s paintings, entitled Landscape Releasing. The exhibition takes as its premise Kaufman’s meditations on, and close reading of Toshio Shibata’s photograph, Grand Coulee Dam, Douglas County, WA, 1996. The result is a series of paintings that navigates a visual territory between abstraction and landscape.
Toshio Shibata’s Grand Coulee Dam, Douglas County, WA, 1996 captures a dam that is just barely releasing water. We see the damn from the top down, yet the perspective appears to shift. We might be looking toward the surface of a pool below, or out against a horizon in the distance. Caught in black and white, the photograph’s power lies in the juxtaposition of organic and industrial forms. The smoke-like shapes that float in the water below, and the softness of the flow, balance the dam’s otherwise hard surface. In scale and form, Shibata produces landscape photography that references abstract painting while rooted in the bold contrasts only possible through film-based photography.
Shibata’s abstract, organic, and hard-edge formalism is the inspiration for Kaufman’s paintings. Working with the formal aspects of the photograph, and playing on the horizon line as well as the gestural release across and through that line, Kaufman’s paintings produce an image not unlike topographic maps of canyons in the American West. Thus, in both form and content, Kaufman might reinvigorate the way we see Shibata, but also produce new ways of representing landscape. As much as Kaufman’s work is inspired by Shibata’s photography, his manner of painting, and his process, are rooted in a longer tradition of painting. Kaufman recognizes that in Shibata’s work there is a play on the iconic processes of mid-century American abstraction. Releasing, spilling, pouring, these are the terms historians have used to describe the gestural marks of Morris Louis or Jackson Pollock. At the same time, Kaufman’s forms maintain a hard edge, reminiscent of the work of Kenneth Noland.
As Kaufman writes in a statement about his paintings, Shibata’s “photograph becomes a point of departure for painting that explores internal notions of landscape, releasing what one can perceive with the senses and moving towards what one perceives through consciousness.” In this manner, Kaufman places his work in a tradition of the sublime, in which the landscape is not only the subject of the work, but an internal, motivating force. That he is inspired to these ends by a photograph made in the American West, working with stylistic cues of American abstraction, is perhaps not coincidental. The West has had held onto the American imagination for several centuries, affecting as much the political and social policies of the nation as the cultural output of its artists. The vastness of this grand space, the way in which humanity has affected, neglected, and been impacted by this land, are a constant point of return for many. Kaufman’s paintings release the landscape into new and dynamic forms, forms that are about what see in the land, as much as what we feel.