Carscape: Square Sunset, 2007
oil on panel
48"h x 48 "w
by Lynn Boland
Bonnie Gammill describes her most recent landscape, Carscape: Square Sunset, as an "impression."(1) Crisp lines result from the stencils Gammill makes for her paintings on wood and are far from indistinct. This is a visual contrast to the painterly brushstrokes of nineteenth-century artists such as Monet, Cassatt, or other Impressionists with a capitol "I;" even so, impressionism is still an appropriate term. Unlike her earlier works, she paints en plein air, and like Baudelaire's counsel to painters of his day suggested, she responds to contemporary life around her.(2) However, life is faster than ever, and rather than being a painter of modern life, Gammill is a painter of post-post-modernity. Abstract forms are superimposed upon a representational landscape, interjected by both additive and subtractive elements. Addressing what she describes as a "disconnect between content and structure and the relevancy of tactility in modes of representation" the artist presents frozen, relatively unpopulated spaces usually experienced at thirty to seventy miles per hour, surrounded by hoards of motorists.(3) She uses formal elements to express the energetic movement that is otherwise absent in the subject matter.
Gammill's interest in making the viewer aware of his spatial relationship to the painting is also one of the reasons behind her use of large, wooden panels, and regular, one-to-one and one-to-two proportions. Within these standardized formats, the artist employs variations on her basic strategy of creating tension between painting as object and painting as representation. Silence juxtaposes a single, stenciled silhouette of a tree against a background gradation of color. White squiggles cut across the background layer, echoing the tree's form while resembling a single "action" by Pollock. Ascending, brightly colored drips comprise the top layer, reminiscent of Morris Louis' "pours." Contained within this painted network of forms and colors, the subtractive tree becomes the source of tension in the work. The flat, wood-grain texture, relatively blank except for traces of paint that have been sanded away, stands in sharp contrast to the painted layers on top.
Although the means are radically different, the tactility, opticality, and plein air approach explain Gammill'ís use of the term "impression" to describe a work like Carscape: Square Sunset. However, while the Impressionists were concerned with capturing the optical effects of light, Gammill deals with opticality from a more removed vantage point, cutting through accumulated layers of culture to examine the way we think about seeing. The modern and contemporary techniques she references make her work a treasure trove of visual associations for an art historian like myself.(4) From the work that introduced the term Impressionism, Monet's Impression: Sunrise, 1873, to Gammill's "impression," Carscape: Square Sunset, 2007, it has been a full and rich day indeed. (5)
(1) Interview with artist, May 30, 2007
(2) Charles Badelaire, "The Painter of Modern Life" (1863), reprinted in Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature, trans. P. E. Charvet (Viking 1972) 395-422.
(3) Artist statement, see www.bonniegammill.com
(4) For her most current work, Gammill cuts designs from newspaper circulars, which brings to mind both 1960s Pop and 1970s Pattern and Decoration. These collages mirror another important theme
in her paintings by examining relationships between natural and manmade forms.
(5) The critic Louis Leroy is credited with introducing the term "impressionism" in print in response to Monet's title. See Richard Shiff, Cézanne and the End of Impressionism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1984) 232 n. 3. Gammill also cites Shiff's
poststructuralist theory seminar at UT as an important initial venue for many of her ideas on these topics.