As a culture, we have a visceral response to the land/landscape, our place of homeland or shelter. This idea underscores Gail Erwin’s images. They speak to our need to identify with and to look for meaning in what we see around us. The idealization of nature, of it being out there but also of us, has long been expressed, from the work of 19th century artists like Casper David Freidrich and the Hudson River School painters to a contemporary German artist like Anslem Kiefer.
In his influential book “Landscape and Memory” historian Simon Schama says “there are two kinds of Arcadia: shaggy and smooth; dark and light; a place of bucolic leisure and a place of primitive panic.” In the first category you find contentment, rustic paternalism, harvest in progress, idyllic pastimes. In the second, one finds a dark grove of desire, a labyrinth of madness and death, raving melancholy, wildness. Both are landscapes of the urban imagination.
The Van Dyke Brown prints presented in Arcadian Concert, Erwin’s current exhibit at the Kingston Gallery, especially speak to the urban imagination. How the images are made, the process itself, acts as the intervention between what is seen and what becomes “imagined.” Gail starts with a digital image, which is manipulated in Photoshop, then printed using the antique technique of Van Dyke Brown. The result is a landscape seeming not of our time, one that exists in some kind of collective memory. What appears invented however, she actually sees everyday outside her window. The photographs completely belie this, making manifest a very personal point of view; mediated through technique, both expressing and transcending any specific place. Unlike early photographers, she has the freedom to both make work of its time and to look backwards as well.
High Clear Note, 22 x 30 inches, Van Dyke Brown print, 2013