Kristy Luck + Alan Prazniak
November 24 to January 12, 2019
The works of Kristy Luck and Alan Prazniak in this two-person exhibition aptly entitled River Belly dovetail neatly in their evocation of landscapes that are highly charged in spirit and sensuous in their mien. Both artists mine landscape as a means of making memory immanent and real, and the hallucinatory clarity of their respective bodies of work draws us in and hold us taut somewhere between memory and its referent, reminding us of our own encounters with a natural world now on the brink. The vivacity of their evocations is equalled by an ecological ethic felt as deeply personal and perhaps even profound. Their palettes, while distinct, cross-pollinate and reinforce one another. Their pairing here is a stellar curatorial move.
Kristy Luck (b. 1985) lives and works in Los Angeles. Her compositions have a casual authority and a bold fervour. Intimate, intuitive and vibrant, they are sourced from nature or invented imagery, drawn out of the deep well of memory and then abstracted from all recognizable sources, inveigling a private vision of the natural world. They seem impossibly lush and are constructed from the basement on up in delicate layers of wax and oil laid on with an almost devotional fidelity. Her brushstrokes possess a sensual, intimate tenor as they peel back the covers of the book of nature, spilling out its contents to the enquiring gaze. Her flowers, waves and tornadoes seem organic and unavoidably self-present.
A work like Fire and Flower (2018) reminds us of Beaver Hall luminary Prudence Heward’s work of the 1930s and 40s at its apex, with is range of emotional values invested in each and every chromatic signature. Hers’ are minutely finessed surfaces with emotive nuance, metaphorical value and a richly embroidered chromatic life. Furnace reds and honey yellows, verdant greens and startling gemstone blues abound.
Equally intimate in scale and tenor are Alan Prazniak’s smallish but fully packed paintings with their heady rumours of Gauguin uncorked. Prazniak (b. 1985) was raised on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania and now lives and works in Brooklyn. His smudged field paintings have a luminosity that seems deeply embedded in their surfaces. They incarnate an almost profane world of the senses that complements Luck’s string of beguiling canvases. And the sheer painterliness – the beautiful brushwork, the sense of stratification – is something both artists share.
There is a joyous savagery in Prazniak’s painting world: lava erupts heedlessly from smoking fissures and the heavenly orbs multiply and are swept by in strange trajectories across the sky. Their teeming, seamless juxtapositions speak of fairy tales and talismanic transmutation, childhood memories of the forest and the river, and the light of other days. A painting like Blue Mango Café (2016) is luxurious in its shifting temporal and chromatic flux. It’s a hedonist’s fever dream of painting’s present tense. These gloriously smudged fields are alluring in their warmth and almost abstract in their painterly wherewithal.
The subjective experiences of both artists are rooted in their imagined landscapes as a supreme article of faith. Their sensuous accounts offer sounding boards for and mutually reinforce one another. They seem to draw upon or intuitively reflect phenomenological theories that help explain such sensuous accounts of landscape experience, and, in this respect, the work of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty is central. 
He dilated eloquently about how we assimilate and work though our surroundings in terms of an embodied, reversible relationship that obtains between seer and seen. Somehow, that understanding of embodiment is integral to the work of Luck and Prazniak. For them, as for Merleau-Ponty, seeing is a process contingent upon this reciprocal relationship between the body and the world.
A key feature of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of reversibility is the idea that a bodily engagement with the world occurs on the boundaries between the body and its surroundings. It is precisely on this boundary that each of these painters ritually perch: the flesh itself. Thus, the sense of carnal flux built into their works, the sensual atmospherics there. They are both caught up in and convey the “light of a first day”. This zone is the phenomenal overlap between a perceiver and her or his perceived surroundings.
Both these painters bring their flesh along with them when they paint – their embodiment in the environing earth is key. The much-vaunted overlap, the so-called breach wall in perception, accommodates both subject and object. The perceiver and the perceived thus stem from a common and indivisible source. This enables the obviation of any artificial separation between the viewer and the viewed, and provokes recognition of coniunctio, of underlying union of opposites.
Both Luck and Prazniak “read’ the Book of Nature is highly distinctive and literate ways. They are open to, up close and personal with the lived world but as distinct from one another as they are from, say, Cezanne’s Mont-Sainte-Victoire. Yet each secures a breath taking measure of authenticity and integrity. 
Each painter puts paint to sensual referents in nature, summoning up a whole world we can immerse ourselves in with alacrity. On a cold and dull winter’s afternoon in Montreal, they offered something like the redemption and the life. WM
 See works by Merleau-Ponty such as Phenomenology of Perception, ‘Eye and Mind’ inThe Primacy of Perception, ‘Cezanne’s Doubt’ in Sense and Non-sense and The Visible and the Invisible which contains the unfinished manuscript and working notes of the book he was writing when he died.
 See Edwin Jones, Reading the Book of Nature: A Phenomenological Study of Creative Expression in Science and Painting, Series in Continental Thought, № 14, p. 129 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989).
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.