March 07/ WM issue #1: Utopia and Terror: the Watercolors of Russell Nachman

March 07/ WM issue #1: Utopia and Terror: the Watercolors of Russell Nachman
Russell Nachman, Asleep in The Garden, 2007, Watercolor

by Hans Michaud, whitehot New York

"Among peers, I don't feel myself to be part of a gestalt movement…only in that I'm dealing with ideas which have some similarities to ideas that are used currently, in different contexts: the idealization within the art world of cool high-school culture. If you go to Chelsea in NYC or Chinatown in L.A., there is a lot of art that looks like the notebook paper drawings you did in high school…I suppose my work could be placed within that arena, only in the sense that I'm using iconic, pop culture elements from a period. However, I'm trying to return to an idea of youthful exploration, not really intent on idolizing youth or adolescent culture." - Russell Nachman

Russell's paintings are adrift in relics, object heavy in signification, crushed by the sky, the white sky. The white sky in Nachman’s work has always bothered me greatly. It continues to touch a raw nerve, and each time I gaze at his work it's the glaring, oppressive, phosphorescent heavens that begin to have more significance to me than the actual landscapes. Taken as the visual inverse of the scenery, the firmament represents the visionary core of the series. Nachman's watercolors present the detritus of the post-capital world we are beset by (represented by the cultural relic-ridden landscapes), surrounded by, as the true 300-pound gorilla, the white sky, the thing we shall not speak of, which is radiant light itself.

Throughout our evolutionary history, there were two sources of light: reflective and radiant. We received all of our information about the world around us through reflective light: where to find food, which animal represented those tracks in the dirt and where they were heading, what things looked like under the green canopy of trees.  The other source of light was radiant light: either the sun or fire, and neither contained any information whatsoever.

Skip forward hundreds and thousands of years, and we find ourselves surrounded by objects of supposedly great cultural significance: the television, the computer, videogames both domestic and portable. All these are sources of radiant light, and radiant light is the source of…absolutely nothing. Like our predecessors, we are sometimes mesmerized by the source of radiant light, staring slack-jawed into the bonfire, for instance; or the television screen.

In this sense, Nachman's paintings provide a glimpse into our culture NOT via the relics themselves but by the empty radiant light of our postmodern condition surrounding, crushing, consuming all in its glare.


The true subject of the work, in my view, is the sky itself. The landscape is the actual negative space. Nachman's sky is a radiant light of emptiness, the light of utopian dreams (read: 20th century) having murdered all possibilities of transcendence in their wake. The meaning and the inheritance of utopian dreams does not lie within the cast-away detritus of the landscapes in the paintings. It lies squarely within the white sky, the vast, all-encompassing explosion of emptiness and death.

Russell Nachman shows at the following galleries:
Sixspace Gallery, 5803 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

Jack the Pelican Presents, 487 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211

He also will feature work at a group show coming up in April, 2007 in Boston:
Allston Skirt Gallery, 65 Thayer Street, Boston, MA 02118


whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Hans Michaud

Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.

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