Of Earth and Sky: Recent Paintings by Rachelle Krieger
February 28 - April 12, 2018
Susan Eley Fine Art
46 West 90th Street, NYC
By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, APR. 2018
Showing through April 12 at Susan Eley Fine Art, Rachelle Krieger's “Of Earth and Sky” is a sprawling two room exhibition that bodies forth less the visible reality of the natural world than how the natural world is understood.
Before actually viewing the show, I was convinced that the works on exhibit were pure abstractions. A painting like Trees with Light Rays 3, at least as a digital thumbnail, would seem to be as abstract as anything Kandinsky might have made during his early forays in abstraction. In a similar vein, it would be argued that Krieger abstracts from landscapes, preserving only intellectualized forms of the natural world. And yet, the methodology underlying the manner in which she applies paint to surfaces is entirely her own — in part, as I will try to show, because her understanding of the natural world is rooted in scientific understanding rather than folkloric cosmology.
The image of the forest means something entirely different today than it did over a century ago. While the psychological connotations of a magic forest — a site filled with elves, spirits, and other connate entities — are preserved in literature, this classical meaning is archaic if not downright invalid. By contrast, let’s consider Krieger's painting Branches with Light Rays 2. On the surface, this painting might seem like a continuation of the Romantic tradition, where “natural objects” (as opposed to those enlightened constructions found in cities) reveal a furtive animism, as though inscribed with a mythological meaning. And yet, if one examines the light rays featured in the painting — represented as gray arcs, semi-circles, and trembling diagonal lines — the viewer sees that Krieger is not abstracting from anything. Rather she’s recreating her cognition of the natural world. Her paintings can be considered schemata of understanding, by which I mean to echo Kant’s assertion that between categories of knowledge and the sensible material they apply to there must occur a temporalized act of intellection in terms of which general forms of thought can apply to particular things.
Saying this, it might still seem that Krieger’s works are wholly Romantic. Wouldn’t painting from the image of a thing, as opposed to the thing itself, be the crowning summit of Romantic endeavor? The imagination, however, insofar as we’re conscious of it through acts of visualization, is everywhere informed by knowledge. If a person doesn’t already know that a cube has six sides, she won’t learn this from attending to her representation of it. Equally, Krieger’s representations of light, which inevitably bend, are informed by how light physically operates. However poetic her works might seem, they’re mechanically sound.
I would argue that a conceptualization of nature even enters into how she applies paint to canvas. The press release for “Of Earth and Sky” notes Krieger's “signature expressive and bold brushwork,” her concern with fluxional entities (thunder, wind, sunlight, etc.), and her aspiration to expressively recreate the atmosphere. Krieger's artistry doesn't reduce itself paintings about the weather, though; and the medium she has chosen to paint with is acrylic, which allows for quick decisions to harden into set realities more readily than, say, oil paint. Working serially, and using a similar palette of warm colors across most of her paintings, the atmosphere Krieger realizes is replete with iconographic entities rather than depictions of what the eye directly perceives. The paintings titled Chaos Theory offer an especially lucid example of this. Featuring a sort of spiraling gray helix cutting across them, they render Krieger’s understanding of chaos theory rather than the unmediated experience of phenomena denoted by that term.
Krieger's seeming tendency towards abstraction is necessitated by the kind of explorations she’s engaged with. What might at first come across as a sort of animism is actually the description of physical processes as revealed by the intellect in opposition to the spatiality of the perceptual world. I can’t speak to whether or not Krieger actually works en plein air, or the degree to which her paintings are informed by particular places, but the fact that she can thematize light without having recourse to a strictly Impressionist mode means her work is situated somewhere outside the quotidian experience of light. But this kind of mediated vantage point can only happen “in the abstract” — that is, within the realm of scientific understanding.
It would run counter to Krieger's intentions to say that she’s merely poeticizing a scientific understanding of light and related processes. What makes Krieger's works contemporary, and what makes them unique, is the way she blends perception and mediation. The image of the planetary world, our collective experience of distance and time, has changed in the wake of scientific discovery. Krieger's paintings keep abreast of this, reconfiguring the landscape tradition to reflect not only what we perceive in nature, but what we know about the dynamic processes underlying natural law. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer based in New York. You can find his work in BOMB, artnet News, Archinect, Imperial Matters, Folder, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere. His chapbook THE TTTROUBLE WWITH SUUNDAAYS was published by Louffa Press in 2014. He curates a reading series on contemporary poetics at Hauser & Wirth Publishers, West 22nd Street.view all articles from this author