Sunday, January 10, 2010

Manufactured landscapes

What do you see in this photograph? Is it the Alps? Maybe the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada? Some unknown Shangri-La in Borneo?

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Now look again. The photo seems both familiar and new. The granite crags in the background, the clouds forming in the upper left, the luminous greenery – we know the parts of this landscape, but once assembled, they seem, well…assembled.

This is a manufactured landscape, composed and photographed in a 200-gallon fish tank by New York artist Kim Keever. The result is a picture reminiscent of the great 19th century landscape artists Bierstadt, Church and Moran who painted the western United States with epic strokes. But Keever’s process does not take him to remote vantage points or open ranges. He builds his trees from twigs and his clouds from cotton balls. Alpenglow comes from an ink bottle and mountains from plaster.

Here’s what Keever said about his work in a 2007 interview with New York Arts Magazine:
“When I look at a beautiful landscape I go into a daydream. This is a daydream of escaping briefly into another world. Having lived in New York City for so long, it seems like another world. If there are no elements of humanity in the view I can't help imagining how this could have been a landscape from a million years ago or a million years hence. I hope the viewer sees the timeless qualities that I try to portray in my work through the absence of people and various signs of humanity.”

Like Hudson River School painters from northeastern cities and Sierra Club founders from West Coast cities, Keever is a city-dweller trying to preserve an idea of “the wild.”

Nostalgia, beauty and pavement – these are powerful forces.

(Image shown is titled West 91)

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