Sarah Nind







Sarah Nind Review: Canadian Art, 2003

By Patrick Mahon

'Pastoral,' Sarah Nind's recent exhibition at Leo Kamen Gallery, at first appeared to be comprised of paintings of Romantic landscapes. Closer inspection of the works confirmed that, indeed, landscapes were on view and the medium of paint had been used in their production -- in hues reminiscent of the works of J.M.W. Turner. However, the aspect of the works that belied their capacity to easily bear the label 'landscape painting,' was another material property about the objects: they involved photographic images on orthographic film which overlaid the oil paint and were fused onto masonite panels. Given such a formulation, many viewers surely experienced a degree of perplexity which was perhaps heightened by the fact that of the many genres to which representational painting adheres, landscape is among the most historically fraught.

It could be said that in Canada in particular, one of the most challenging subjects for a visual artist to address is landscape. Clearly, the expansive geography of the country with its seemingly compressed human population suggests that we have ready cause to think of ourselves as passive spectators in a land of that is vast and full of grandeur. This tension was advanced visually by the Group of Seven when they adopted their interest in the "Nordic" landscape; ultimately it remains a source of implicit fascination whenever the idea of landscape is presented in art in Canada even now.

Sarah Nind's 'Pastoral' showed blackish photographic silhouettes of the land that, rather than invoking 'real' places from nature, ultimately turn away from what is 'without' toward what is arguably 'within' the grasp of human culture -- due in part to the fact that the works involve mechanical reproduction. Here the quintessential means of picturing the land as active (via paint and the brush) is displaced by the photographic gesture that arguably fixes time and, as has often been said, essentially deadens it. Thus Nind's works have an afflicted quality which is produced by combining degraded photographs with overwrought paint hues. As such, they propose sites of anxiety rather than of Romantic reverie: the land is made artificial, torched with an otherworldly light instead of being awash in evening's glow and consumed by Nature's abiding presence.

Sometimes we think about the land as inherently beautiful and by extension we equate the idea of landscape painting with beauty itself. Yet in "Pastoral, 8"," for example, Sarah Nind presents us with a work whose appearance as beautiful exists in spite of the fact that it depicts a "natural" subject. Indeed, the image of landscape here is consumed with tension and seemingly bereft of the potential to offer solace. The artist has appropriated one of the crucial subjects historically allied with the beautiful in order to show how readily the land has become but another object of post-modern bereavement -- and she has done so "beautifully." 'Pastoral' is difficult though compelling work: rather than showing us the beauty of the world as source of consolation, it argues that if such potential is lost within nature, "death" itself comes to acquire an appearance that is increasingly inviting.