Katherine Blackburne: The Flooding Lake
September 30 through October 30, 2022
By CORI HUTCHINSON, October 2022
The Flooding Lake, the namesake painting of Katherine Blackburne’s exhibition at Seasons LA , features a scene neither strictly anatomical nor landscape. Appendages include petals; organs include planets. One jeweled nipple punctuates a sole, sloping breast oozing out of the sky. A coronal outburst of black pearls, snaking ligatures akin to rosaries, and glittering flora swirl out of the moon’s amber puddle. The crook of an arm, posed to emote almost as if to bite one’s invisible nails, cradles a blue pod with teardrop crystal embellishment. Focused light emitted from two streetlights onto the distant forest is ambiguated, doubled, floated into rich orbs. Suddenly, the landscape is wearable on this figure, both landscape and figure richly dismembered and reconfigured as one gridded vision.
During a studio visit, Blackburne affirms that she currently resides in a “lyrical place with painting” and notes the offering of cloudy possibilities that she brings to the canvas. The forest forces at play in this body of work communicate through the subjectivities of the viewer, although the artist’s understanding of her own body’s forms, needs, and potential remains integral. As a lifelong student of movement and dance, the artist sees the body as one intersection between culture, history, and religion. Blackburne’s early life and primary education in Australia developed her interest in the visual arts and offered an indigenous understanding of geography and landscape, one in which the sentience of the wild is both elemental and also related to a colonial history. As Simon Schama writes in Landscape and Memory, “Landscapes are culture before they are nature; constructs of the imagination projected onto wood and water and rock.”
With the exception of The Flooding Lake, the portrait-oriented paintings in Blackburne’s exhibition are grouped in pairs by subject: I love you I’m leaving and The Offering are both smaller-scale skull vanitas with goggles. Emerald Mary and Wild God Chicken Magic, painted in 2021, depict psychedelic, religious maidens topped by elaborate headdresses. Night Stalker and Crying Lady Dance render figures walking across the canvas, from left to right, in emotive camouflage. Additional configurations exist as well: for example, the twilight blue ridge of Wild God Chicken Magic continues seamlessly through Crying Lady Dance. Night Stalker and Emerald Mary are partially illuminated by well-lit windows in an evening distance. Wild God Chicken Magic and The Flooding Lake employ literal fragmentation of the body.
Emerald Mary shares genre defiance with Caspar David Friedrich’s Tetschen Altar. This Marian apparition appears decorated in glow-in-the-dark body paint, in an urban park, with a tree ring pattern radiating from her jugular notch. The painter’s interest in religious irony, such as the simulacrum of domestic Christmas decorations, is apparent in the stylization of the organic stigmata, ritual arm pattern, and use of the emerald hue. The layered application of oil paint speaks to the stratified representation of women’s bodies within mystical tradition. Emerald green, straightforwardly leafy, invokes a polytheistic color symbolism and speculation. Wild God Chicken Magic, adopting its title from the poem “Sometimes a Wild God” by Tom Hirons, also features a vision of a woman who wears her landscape. In this instance, her face takes on the rocky slope of a nearby mountain. More overtly than others in this showing, Wild God Chicken Magic collages disparate vegetation to create a sense of ever-ebbing portals and coincidence.
In Night Stalker, nature is seen through a veil of vibrant patterns. The figure raves flamboyantly under green ectoplasm-like clouds, stepping carefully or haphazardly over a crack in the cosmic sidewalk. Crying Lady Dance depicts a figure doubled in compression stockings and red lipstick moving forward in a dynamic shroud of blueness. This gesture, a possibly postpartum celebration and despair, considers motherhood beneath an ecstatic sky. Both paintings render feeling as topography which radiates from the elastic, adorned body, creating a type of emotional camouflage within the landscape. This work reminds us that painting is a temporal splitting of being two places at once.
While admiring a painting titled Two Girls and a Garden not included in this particular exhibition, though viewable on the artist’s website, I inquired about the reference source of a plant painted with pink trumpet flowers and heart-shaped leaves, and whether it was real or imagined. Blackburne’s striking reply was something like: nature is so genius, multiple, random, and unknown, that the artist could not possibly have imagined the species. The visions of Blackburne’s work, disrupting the hierarchy of genres by blending them in fractured auras, function the same. The artist paints preexisting miracles observed through a gaze of belief that is one foot in, one foot out. WM
Cori Hutchinson is a poet, watercolorist, and library assistant living in Brooklyn.view all articles from this author