Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wild Edges: Photographic Ink Prints by Gregory Conniff

When I saw this post on 5B4 about Wild Edges: Photographic Ink Prints by Gregory Conniff there was a certain familiarity but I couldn't place it. I was initially attracted to what seemed to be an interesting selection of scrub/tangle/wild places pictures that struck some chords with my own Immersive Landscapes work. However, it took a couple of days for it to sink in and some digging through unpacked boxes of books, but I realised I had a copy of Conniff's earlier book Common Ground - An American Field Guide Volume 1 that I had picked up some years ago in a used bookstore in Maine (unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the other three planned volumes of the field guide were never published).

Anyway, I got a copy of Wild Edges, not only because of its subject matter, but because the exhibition on which it is based was all ink (jet) prints. He talks in some detail about why he chose that process, and it's in part because of the luscious tones and sense of depth he can get from ink prints with this kind of wild subject matter - on which point I would certainly agree.

I actually like both books. The Common Ground work actually ties in a lot with the traces/alleyways work I am doing, and the Wild Edges also has echoes for me of my immersive landscapes work.

From the exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art in Wisconsin:

A resident of Wisconsin for more than thirty years, Conniff has focused much of his artistic energy on the rural Midwest, exploring the interdependent relationship between land and people. For the past fifteen years, Conniff has also been making pictures of rural Mississippi, again focusing on elements of the landscape that resonate with a universal sense of aesthetic familiarity. As he explains, "I am interested in work that defines and protects the vanishing, commonplace beauties that let us know we’re home."

Wild Edges: Photographic Ink Prints by Gregory Conniff is an exhibition about beauty and its necessary place in daily human life. Most of the pictures in the show were made specifically for the exhibition. All are printed in a rich four-black ink process that evokes the sensuality of nineteenth century photographic materials. In Conniff's affectionate and intelligent work, there is a visible connection to the history of landscape art, reaching back as far as Claude Lorrain and seventeenth century Dutch drawing. Conniff is also a leading practitioner of a new pastoralism that is casting a contemporary eye on the current state of America's open land. Postmodern in the best sense, Conniff's pictures address the timeless human need to see beauty in the world that shapes our lives.

From 5B4:

Conniff pursues beauty, as he describes, with an awareness that without beauty in our everyday lives we are evolving in ways that will potentially lead to a loss of fulfillment in our lives. He argues that we are hardwired with a need and that we are being denied that need.

In this day of issue oriented art, beauty is often something that is allowed to enter the work, but an artist that directly searches it out in its classic forms(without irony) is usually considered a kind of dinosaur. Conniff is a dinosaur, he probably wouldn’t take that as a disparaging term and he shouldn’t. These are not groundbreaking, original works featured in this book. They owe a lot to painting and art history and appropriately, he mentions George Innes of the Hudson River School of painters in his essay. But his versions are at times stunning. What I do know is that he is capable of exciting the viewer even though they may, at first glance, feel very familiar with what he is placing before us.

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