The pressure on contemporary artists is unrelenting. They must possess technique and an excellent field of vision, as well as absorb and project color. In 2019, exhibiting visual artists have an additional responsibility to create art that provides social or political commentary. The impact of urbanization on the environment is presented at Denver’s Robischon Art Gallery in a show that runs through May 4th. Featured are photographer David Maisel: Atlas, photographer Kevin O’Connell: Petrichor and videographer James Benning: small roads.
Maisel trained at California College of the Arts where he now serves on the board. Without reading Maisel’s artist statement or his biography, a viewer might interpret his media as oil instead of archival pigment prints. In one of his aerial images, great abstract swaths of blue and copper collect and disperse. Maisel reinvents the world atlas by framing his subject with the distance provided by his aerial gaze. In an interview with Mark Alice Durant, Maisel states, “We expect photographs to render some kind of truth but they’re actually very hard to read, and embody the kind of difference between subjective looking and objective data.” Numbers may speak but his Butte, Montana photos show the grim effects from years of mining since 1864. Another image from the Atacama Desert in Chile reports on the damages from mining. The hole seems to bore through to the center of the earth.
Maisel studied architecture at Princeton and found photography a good bedfellow. In the Saint Lucy interview with Durant, Maisel said “What fascinated me was how…buildings sit in the landscape.” He took a photography class with Emmet Gowin and changed his major to visual art and continued at Princeton. After his move to the Bay Area he enrolled in a weekend poetry workshop with Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz “spent his life dealing with words and images and history and trying to find a form. And here he was this sort of elderly man at that point, but still trying to find form, that was incredibly inspirational to me.” Maisel choice of subjects is comparable to the poet’s careful selection of words.
While art activism is seen on the walls of the Robischon Gallery, Kevin O’Connell’s technique and attention to Western landscapes is what holds the viewer’s gaze. Without defining the space with a specific geographical location he envelops the viewer with scents of forests and the “scorching heat of summer…not far off.” The artist goes on in his notes, “I long for the experience of being in the land.” He has had solo shows at the MCA and the Aspen Art Museum and group exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum. His contributions to the Robischon show are pigment prints that make a record of the prairie, the high plains and Oregon beaches. His photographs reveal an artist who understands his assignment of recording what can be seen in the West now.
Be certain to visit the viewing room at the gallery to see Benning’s video small roads.https://www.robischongallery.com/exhibition/298/exhibition_works/6918