Art historians used to posit that artists from Venice were particularly sensitive landscape painters because their daily environment was so bereft of things like trees and grass and hills that a Venetian could feel a longing for nature that only absence and alienation can create, a vulnerable hunger that makes their images even more poignant and forlorn. Well, we're all Venetians now, probably more collectively disenfranchised and exiled from our environment than any humans in history. And the degree to which the paintings of Claire Sherman raise that clarion call--that art about nature can provide a special parallel zone of humanity and metaphor, that through communion with the observed world we can touch something important and central to who and what and where we are--made this a very intriguing exhibition. That landscape painting itself isn't exhausted from several hundred years of overwork by thousands of artists, that endless mediocre repetition and knee-jerk cliches haven't made it completely descend into a vacant parody of itself is proved by Sherman's work, which throughout this show seems fresh and pertinent, painted with gusto, big and brassy, and always informed by observation tempered by intelligence.
There are never any humans present in Sherman's work; these trees, cacti, buttes, cliffs and caves are "pure" nature, seemingly unsullied by human narrative or exploitation. Sherman is present, though, and makes herself an issue here through slight dislocations and marginally askew compositional and paint-handing decisions that make her images refuse to behave as landscape paintings usually do. Sometimes her point of view seems too close to or too far from her motif, or her subjects are isolated and shown denuded from a context of sky and milieu. Or the image appears too roomy or too cramped, in the latter case as if we're looking at a detail from a slightly larger composition. At times, her paint handling seems diffident and perfunctory then seems
to erupt in a frenzy of slathering pigment. This continual process of reconsideration is just disorienting enough to keep things fresh. Nature is a big thing, after all, and Sherman never presents it as Eden or Hell or some neutral vessel to be filled with human anxieties, hopes, or fears, but rather as a complex and fundamental ur-motif that we just have to return to again and again, acknowledged and respected, though never to be solved.