On March 19th, 2017, I visited the Pine Hills Branch of the Albany, NY Public Library to view “Mediating Illusion: Landscapes.” This exhibit was on show from December 2nd until March 26th. The gallery featured artists Theresa Bloise, Thomas Lail, Michael Oatman, and Charles Sommer. Works shown took a contemporary and sometimes surreal spin on what landscape art was and what it could be. Each artist had a different form of work displayed. Most pieces were collage based: the same image cut up and repeated, in a frame that broke out of the “standard” rectangular design, formed a surreal scene. What was interesting though, was that each piece challenged the viewer to think about what a landscape really was. They showed that a landscape does not always have to be what we can take a photograph of. We can create scenes before us that don’t appear in our world, but still hold so much meaning. Out of all of the works seen at this gallery, two really stood out to me.
One that stood out the most was Broken Lanscape by Charles Sommer. This is a piece done with graphite, gouache, enamel and cut paper on canvas. Color is used sparingly here, with only touches of reds and blues. With the way this collage is done, you can very easily see the different layers. All of the forms Sommer uses are very organic in nature, giving the forms in middle of the piece the appearance of a mountain range. Sommer takes advantage of texture not only by showing viewers the layers in his pieces, but by using graphite to draw on other features. Under the colored horizontal lines and on the mountains, a swirled, smooth texture can be seen. There is even the texture of a grid-like pattern on the top of the piece; it is faint, but left visible. The blue pieces of paper help to guide viewers’ eyes through the entire piece since they are placed from the top right corner to the middle of the bottom. Depth is seen through the overlapping pieces of paper, not in the forms themselves. Sommer has taken the traditional landscape and broken it up through the use of his colored horizontal lines along the bottom and blue pieces of paper crossing the entire piece.
Sommer had another piece in the exhibition that stood out to me as well. This piece, Inactive Portal is very much like the first piece I mentioned. It is also graphite, gouache, and cut paper collage on canvas. Sommer again uses very minimal color and the same organic, almost marble-like texture on a form that resembles a mountain. In contrast to the first piece, this one uses only one small instance of color and only one mountain shape. The black used in this piece is also a flatter, more matte color, whereas the black in Broken Lanscape is shiny. This piece appears that take some influence from minimalism in the forms and subject matter. There is only one mountain, one rectangle in red, and one thing gray horizontal line. The only part that does not match with minimalism is the texture inside of the figure. Even the name of this piece, Inactive Portal, is straight forward with viewers. Sommer uses space to his advantage and is not afraid to leave some of it open. This works to his advantage because the viewers’ eyes are then drawn to the bright colors or the white figure against the black background.
There were many things from the exhibition that can be applied to my work in graphic design. What was interesting and probably the most informative was the theme behind the gallery, of taking traditional landscapes and changing them into something new. This idea can be applied to my own work; it forces creativity in a way that people may not have yet seen. It makes the old things new and exciting again. Specifically looking at Sommer’s work, his use of black backgrounds and small amounts of bright color immediately drew my eye. They stood out because they were so different from the other pieces shown, and I think that’s important. As an artist, I need to find a way to make my work stand out from the other artists around me. What is the point in creating something similar to someone else if nobody will pay any attention to it? Sommer’s work also shows the tired cliché: less is more. What I mean is that, space does not always have to be filled until there is nothing left. I could apply this philosophy to my own work and my own designs, letting my focus or my main forms be the piece.