Rebecca Allan "In Voltaire’s Garden"
Friendship is a trigger for the cultivation of wonder. It is also a springboard, giving us courage to take action, or to deepen our work as we learn from another’s discipline. This body of work was created in response to travels in New Mexico, Kentucky, Lebanon, and Norway; and it is undergirded by the impact of friendships in those places—with naturalists, gardeners, and painters. The landscape painter Robert Berlind (1938–2013), whose sharp elegance always reminded me of the playwright Voltaire, always made me think about the movements of vision and how we integrate the visible and interior worlds in painting.
My abstract paintings are catalyzed by the deep relationship that I have with deserts and deciduous landscapes, whether at the confluence of the Hudson and Harlem rivers that I see from my studio window, vibrant colors of gardens and in France or Lebanon, or the severe grandeur of northern Northern New Mexico. I still believe that there is an essential place for the observation and translation of the landscape in our art. This is more important now than it has ever been, as the agencies of our government that are enlisted with protecting our wild lands and waters inconceivably refute that mission.
A painting, like a mountain, is a layered object. Beneath the “resolved” upper surface is a burial ground of efforts and failures that have been scraped away, reworked, slashed and jettisoned. Slashing, tearing, and flooding are forces that shape the land, and alter us. We are aware of these in relation to the rending of the ozone layer, or the devastation of streams filling with mining debris. In Voltaire’s play Candide, the naïve protagonist accepts that life is filled with difficulty, but he says that we must all cultivate our own gardens….and that is the only way—affirms his tutor, Pangloss—to make life bearable. My paintings are, like gardens, an oasis for those who care about the enduring beauty of the landscape and who want to live in a world that contains the inconceivable complexity and ravishing beauty of the Earth.
June 2, 2018