THE SPACE BETWEEN TONDOS
The Space Between Tondos Series is a look at nature. It questions how to see nature, both visually and conceptually, now that the virtual world and its companion imagery have become more real than reality for so many.
Contemporary experience of nature is rarely in person. On a daily basis, rather than having bare feet touch the grass, or move along a wooded trail, it is primarily through the digital imagery of photographs, videos or movies that we connect with nature. Our views of nature are selected and manipulated, as is our visual focus. Our non-immediate world (television, advertising, journalism, film, video, email, the internet) is mediated through photography so completely that we are often blind to the distortion and manipulation of the camera’s eye. The Tondos paintings redirect the photographically-derived focus that pervasively informs our perception so that the human eye intervenes with the camera’s eye and takes priority.
At first glance, the imagery is not obviously landscapes of trees and the spaces between them. Instead, a variety of subjects seem to appear. These could be micro views through a microscope of amoebas, bacteria, cells, viruses or other organic forms. Just as easily, we could be looking through a telescope at macro forms in the vast cosmos of outer space. Using a round format, the tondo (Italian: rotondo) also suggests views through lenses, portholes and other various viewing devices. As concentric systems organized around a center, circles seem both self-contained (due to the equal, repetitive distances from the center to the circumference) and to imply cropped and bounded infinity. Tondos from Greek antiquity and the Renaissance were shapes uniquely qualified to house the transcendent, as per works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Pontormo and Botticelli. Traditionally, landscapes use a horizontally-oriented rectangle in response to the weight and horizontality of nature. In tandem with The Space Between Tondo Series, my ongoing The Space Between Series paintings use a square format. The square is a hybrid that contains aspects of both the circle (centricity) and the rectangle (the grid). As a compositional device, the square – like the tondo - reinforces the notion of landscapes situated at the intersection of physical and conceptual space.
It is purposefully provocative to choose to paint trees as a vehicle for scouting through the familiar art-landscape topography in order to slip into a spot located between the hackneyed and the potentially sublime. Voids or the spaces between trees are as important as the trees. ‘Empty’ spaces create the image. Voids are nothing and everything simultaneously. These blurry ‘spaces between’ are the tale-tell and normally ignored signs of photographic sources now altered to replace their former selves. These paintings highlight the power and role of focus in controlling vision. Tree branches may appear as mere wisps, nearly as ethereal as air in this process of condensation, dispersion and reinvention. In the work of 19th century landscape painter George Inness, nature is abstracted so that the shapes between landscape elements are as important as the landscape itself. Similarly, Piet Mondrian’s early realistic landscapes ultimately morph into pared-down abstract grids filled with both voids and colored shapes that move back and forth in spatial extension, with a suggestion of the infinite cosmos in his late work. The same sense of boundlessness seems to be trapped inside these tondos paintings, in spite of the enclosing foliage.
As landscape hybrids, the tondos oppose the representational with the abstract, the romantic and with the scientific, the illusion of infinite space with flatness and the rough physicality of paint with machine-like smoothness. The Space Between Tondos Series examines and manipulates nature through the filter of these contradictions.