The binary of the civilized world vs wilderness is problematic in many ways…yet, there is a primal response in seeing the human form before the elements. “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich is perhaps the most famous example in the west, as it evokes a determination against the vicissitudes of life itself, not just nature. At Seattle Art Fair, there are several works that exist within this tradition, but are more gentle and ambiguous than Friedrich’s conquering wanderer archetype. Here, the interface between human and natural world is more fluid, which is something we ought to embrace in our time.
Galleri Urbane (Los Angeles, CA), Booth E9
“Reverie Sleep” by Synchrodogs
The surreal photography of Synchrodogs shows influences from fashion editorials in its immaculate execution, but the emphasis is never on clothes, always on the body. The models are typically nude, but concealed by mundane objects (sometimes to disturbing effect) or entwined with the natural landscape. It’s especially true in “Reverie Sleep,” in which the human body is not in a lax repose, but half-absorbed, straining and embracing in a web of branches. If we squint, it is almost as if the body is being carried away by the brush. And in the dream we imagine it is having, it very well may be.
Monte Clark Gallery (Vancouver, BC), Booth C26
“Woman with Hollowed Tree” by Karin Bubaš
Even clothed, the human body seems to meld into the landscape in “Woman with Hollowed Tree” by Karin Bubaš. The poised yet casual stance, the earth-toned outfit of the woman rising within the hollow of a great tree allow the eye to accept the scene calmly. In this receptive state, we can consider all the various implications of what we see: the dark interior, even in its stillness seemingly ready to swallow the body; the measure of life in the ancient tree and the young human; the mere pleasure of being in such a space, hearing the birdsongs and the wind in the branches. The human body in the image (faceless to us) becomes a proxy for our own presence, allowing us to imagine our own selves immersed in the scene. (Imagine how dull it would be if the woman were not present, or how distracted we would be if she were wearing neon pink.) It’s a gorgeously composed image that is pleasing to the eye, yet, for all its simplicity, can evoke both calm and uncertainty.
Robischon Gallery (Denver, CO), Booth E15
“The Sorceress Ed. 5” by Kahn + Selesnick
Here, the artifice is higher, and we come closer to Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, but the dark human form here faces us and almost seems to float within the landscape rather than rise imperiously above it. The relative symmetry of the surroundings and the choice of lens and framing (bending the world around the center) does not make the human within a conqueror, but an intellectual abstraction. All the same, the gothic garb of “The Sorceress” puts distance between the human body and the surroundings, and some may see hokum, others hubris, others a delightful theatricality, others still a modern archetype to which they aspire. As usual, my reading depends on my mood.
What is unchanging is the symbolic content: The sigmoid pose of the veiled woman evokes the “as above, so below” maxim of theosophy. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm, and vice versa. We have newer terms for more observable phenomena (cf. biomimesis), but they all speak to the notion that we are part of something larger. Call it nature, if you will. Whatever you call it, that is something we might all reflect on more often.
There are more great works in this vein to see at Seattle Art Fair. I especially recommend:
- “Sono, The Sentinel” by Fay Jones at James Harris Gallery (Booth B14) is about as perpendicular to Friedrich’s “Wanderer” as it gets. (Go check it out to see what I mean.)
- For another startling, deeply peaceful and melancholy vision of a woman at the sea, see “Eos” by Will Barnet at Alexandre Gallery (Booth A29).
- Anna Fidler’s layered, multimedia painting “Harmonic Convergence” at Charles Hartman Gallery (Booth D23) has its own esoteric implications as it turns dancing human forms and the surrounding forest into a pulsing, psychedelic burst of life and color, dissolving the Human/Nature dichotomy entirely.
The 2016 Seattle Art Fair runs from August 4 through August 7. Learn more and buy passes on the Seattle Art Fair website, and check out all our coverage of the booths, events and the vision of the fair as a whole.