Road, Canyon Ancho, Santa Fe And JF F-6: Parallel In Duality, Not In Destiny Essay
Strunck pushes the viewer to make a decision on which way the image falls, but does nothing to suggest a true meaning or path to the work. Sloan, similarly, shows a road that seems endless in a land that sits perpetually between storming and clearing up—yet he keeps us blanketed by clouds, and comforted to think that this scene may never end. JF F-8 seems to encourage the eye to move, but never admits which way the light is really going, while Road is more reassuring in that, although the New Mexico scene seems to be just a snapshot of a day in flux—to the viewer, the spirit of the setting could last a lifetime.
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Road, Canyon Ancho, Santa Fe And JF F-6: Parallel In Duality, Not In Destiny
Juergen Strunck’s JF F-6, a 38”X38” ink on Japanese Fiber, dated 2008, depicts a subject in the shape reminiscent of a lady-bug—or a sunset on its side. It is dawn as much as twilight, with rippled rivers rolling outward and back inward with the tide. The water’s breakers bleed with the redness of human life, while the dark contrast lines, in echoes of expressionism, cast the piece back into the depths of blackness. It is an oval with tips at either end, almost as if it were a blooming flower, with high elements of symmetry embedded in it, both on the horizontal plane as well as the vertical axis. Minus a pair of double-dots underlined at the top, the work surpasses the symmetrical beauty of even the human face. JF F-6 is almost all unity, beautified by the symbolic binary image of a woman’s womb at birth, and the tunnel of light at death–each represented in the folds of a sideways eye. The work is a portal to another world: an event horizon, drawing the gaze inward toward the black hole of its most grounded depths, and then spitting it back outward, as unwanted life—back into the glaring lights of living.
JF F-6 is centered and heavy, balanced by purple, red and pink petals–and a black entryway. Stairs seem to descend inward, folding two ponds into ripples, where moonlight paddles the waves with its gentle beams. Strunck’s piece makes good use of negative black space, stretching it upward like the fingers from two hands, cupping a central eyelet, with thumbs touching toward the top. The bottom of the ladybug is balanced solidly on a squared-off base, giving the image more atrophy into the black, as opposed to leaping forward off the paper, toward the viewer. The greater amount of black space at the bottom pushes the subject slightly, as a deckhand might nudge a boat adrift from its moorings. When the eye catches this subtlety, the oval red gate shrinks into space, diminishing into the horizon, and the only anomaly that arrests this drift, is a pair of underlined double-dots at the top that seem out of place. They almost look like two halves of a brick or bread-loaf, in the middle of being broken by the hands—again conveying a sense of being in between floors, just before something is split, but after it is undertaken to do so.
Strunck’s work is, at its core, about an ambivalence of direction that gives rise to a moment caught in limbo, when everything is either black-or-white, yet no signs indicate which is more likely. The bread is broken over an inner fire that is warming the hands, giving a vibrant rhythm outward at the eye, and as much as the scale collapses into the black, leaving a tempo of tension, it also unfurls forth at the same time, giving rise to new life. It is a pair of cymbals between being struck–and just having been struck, while on fire—as sound waves spasm through the air around. The image is at a crossroads, but the driver (being the viewer), is not told which way to turn—but only reminded that one of two fates awaits. Black squares and triangles fall toward the bottom of the central red ridge, almost forming the face of a dog, with two eyes a nose and ears–giving the double-dots at the top a counter-balance in form, for the dots are more delineated, whereas the triangles and squares—and indeed, the rest of the work–are less so. Into its middle distance, the piece grows brighter—while the oval as a whole swims through dark space—again reflecting a duality. The work itself is of a human-scale size, being half as high as some people, and yet it allows the looker access to the universal as well as the particular—though, again, never hinting down which rabbit hole may be preferable to tread.
JF F-6 is about form and color as much as meaning. It is full of openness to interpretation, with a form that folds inward and opens out at the same time. It invites us in as well as out-distances us. It flutters open as well as shutters us out. The viewer is subconsciously reminded of their birth and future death all at once. It evokes tension and feelings of freedom in tandem, and only the underlined double-dots at the top break the mesmerism created by the ridged shape. Only the dots prevent viewers from crumbling enitrely into the vortex, re-setting their eyes to see more in the foreground—letting them decide how they want to view the piece.
JF F-6 is focused on the future. Its visual composition implies impending change and momentum—but little evidence is offered as to whether the next steps fall into the light or shadows. The work signals the romance of twilight and the warming of dawn. It is a landscape on its side—and also a portrait of a birth. Its black strokes close it in, while the vibrant reds keep the piece well within the colorful portfolio of Strunck. The artist uses the less is more principle, underlining a pair of dark double dots to emphasize the duality of the work’s character—while hinting at only the slightest human touch to what is otherwise just a drop of nature. Strunck touches on the slightest consciousness to what is otherwise mostly just crimson tidal waves in a sea of black. The viewer is left to step forward or back, entirely dependent on the tendency of their own perpetual motion, rather than any inherent direction the work itself suggests.
The artist succeeds in achieving a nearly exact balance, however, one is still left with a residual wish that the double-dots didn’t exist at all—and the work was purely equal on the scales. The viewer is left wishing the piece would give away more about its true natural direction, but it remains steadfastly unreadable in this area. It is exceptionally executed and worthy of high ranking in Strunck’s catalog–but being that its message is of a wayward mindset, that cannot decide which way to head, it is meant to be but a way-station for the spirit between here and tomorrow—leaving the viewer wanting more awareness about whether this sideways eye of mystery is opening upon a bright future–or closing out into the cold darkness altogether
Lakeside Galleries, one of Strunck’s on-line exhibitors, summarizes the artist as follows:
Juergen Strunck is a printmaker and Professor of Art, University of Dallas, Irving, TX … [he] has shown his prints regularly in numerous regional, national and international exhibitions … His work is included in the public collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Library of Congress, the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Art, Delta Airlines and the New York Public Library. (Lakeside Galleries)
So, Strunck is clearly approaching the class of a Master Artist, and JF F-6 has all of the formal hallmarks of a unique and gripping masterpiece, however, at least one other of his prints is similar to it—revealing to us that this oval form is more of an evolving experiment or theme to Strunck, than a singular piece standing alone in time. Moreover, while this implies a favor by the artist for this sort of shape, color and form—it does not necessarily mean there is an underlying message, but rather just a duality that can easily be interpreted in one manner—or, as well, in the very opposite approach..
I will teach art appreciation to the students through the language of the principles of design, allowing both them and myself to better understand how the words we use evoke emotions in us to replicate those feelings we receive from the pieces of art we observe. Through field trip work, where they return from museums and galleries with descriptions based on this model, they will gain in their skill set of descriptions of aesthetics, while still feeling free to breathe in the actual impression of a work of art, as opposed to trying too much to impose a pre-existing framework onto a piece.
In John Sloan’s Road, Canyon Acho, Santa Fe, the viewer is beckoned back to turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Mexico. A road winds by corduroy green and brown fields, past trees and a big hill—with mountains ranging in the distance, where yellow clouds collect on rocky peaks. Down below, some long and low abodes are in the middle-ground, where the road seems to go. The road twists like a snake, and the hill rolls gently beside it. The orange ruddiness of the shoulder contrasts brightly with the dark greens of the New Mexico fields. Beyond the long houses, two trees stand as a darkly silhouetted pair. The human proportion is set off against the sublime mountains at one extreme, and the small buildings at the other—whereby the hill falls in between, being on the key level that is most capable of connecting with the viewer. The work’s rhythm is languid, emphasizing a comfortable and quaint style of living, in contrast to the urban metropolitan settlements that were beginning to creep up everywhere. The picture tells the story of turn-of-the-century tourism, when the world was at a crossroads between the remaining vestiges of the rugged pioneer—and the alien amenities of the upcoming urban class.
Almost no straight lines exist in the work, not even on the houses, which are softened by the land. The braided fields roll like green and brown sea swells, and the shapes all fit in snugly together, balancing each other off, near and far, here and there—in the heavy foreground, or the distant airy lightness. Both extremes of cloud and rock are unified by the form and flow of the work, giving rise to an overall unity that defies the imagination from seeing which way the wind is about to break—or the sun is about to shine. The light source is not overbearing, but the land does indeed dance in a warm glow—although the distant Rio Grande has a coolness to its presence. The colours are all earthy and textured to reveal the well-worked ways and dearly tended lands of the American scene in that area. The space of freedom beyond the buildings signifies the promise of the young country, but the duality of the houses and the double-trees beside them draw the eyes down, and again shows how just a few incongruous elements of variety can cast all flow to the wind—and cause the viewer to consider the human hand’s presence at the foot of the hill. The work speaks to the union of pairs, as marriage was more common and lasting back then, and twosomes often formed a family and cultivated a land–all based on the strength of their duality. A green elbow to the left of the double-trees seems to point from this duality toward the fields and the hill, up to the sky and then into the distance, only to fall again over the mountains—to trickle down into the Rio Grande, up into the middle-ground again. This work, although also based on dualities, sets up a cyclical equilibrium in its own little world, and seems to cast irrelevance on where the world ever went onward from the moment it captures.
Sloan shows optimism in the land, drenching it in a warm hue—giving good characterization to what was at that time still considered the land of opportunity. His use of green is fecund and his handling of brown is regenerative. He utilizes blue and white and yellows in the clouds to comfort those experiencing the setting in blankets of softness, rather than weather too dark or ominous. The work encourages coziness in a wild land where even sublime scenery on the horizon seems human in size next to the hill—due to the well-crafted perspective–and the double trees and double buildings that anchor the whole scene. The mood is pleasant and symbolic of a new young century looking brightly ahead at a future built on the beautiful roots of American land.
It is a decent work framing the time, without any more message necessary than that of a beautiful place not yet gridded by the urban. It succeeds in lulling the eye into every nook and bend, and making one think to stay awhile, as if they had arrived at the end of a long trip. One senses friends live down below, and invitations will shortly follow if they descend. The image’s composition style is as important as its subject, exhibiting a mastery of balance and form that is still careful to blend the human dwelling and the big sky above into one tapestry out of time, boldly static in its timeless message of the pastoral paradise that is to be found in the rural essence. Sloan’s command of the American landscape seems effortless and yet brilliantly calculated to evoke longing in the viewer for getting outdoors and beyond the city cores. After all, Sloan himself loved to see the countryside. But, while we sense that the piece and the artist are aware of the urban side to this rural setting, it may be that Sloan did not hold much grudge toward the city—but rather, he just used his craft well enough to capture that which he saw as sacred.
Factual Information Stage
Sloan was originally from the The Ashcan School of artists out of New York, several years before Road was painted. They were:
… a small group of artists who sought to document everyday life in turn-of-the-century New York City, capturing it in realistic and unglamorized paintings and etchings of urban street scenes … The spirit of the Ashcan School was continued in the American Scene Painting of the 1920’s and 1930’s - Road, Canyon Ancho, Santa Fe And JF F-6: Parallel In Duality, Not In Destiny Essay introduction. (Artcyclopedia)
So being from the city, he knew full well of the paradox of rural and urban. But the main hub of Road, unlike JF F-8, lies in that, although its duality does not stoop to suggest an imminent direction, much like Strunck’s work—what it does suggest is that no direction at all is best. It encourages the eye to linger and the spirit to soar in consideration that this pastoral scene was once seen by Sloan’s own eyes—and also, that the verdant setting could live on forever in anyone’s imagination who cared to stay there awhile.
I will teach art appreciation to my students by having them each describe this scene in writing, and then having them exchange each other’s pages anonymously and read them aloud to the class. This way the speaker and class alike will all learn to look at the picture differently, and to see the commonality between their individual impressions. The students will come to recognize every element of the work, and to see something special where perhaps before they only saw a dirt road. Then I will have them paint their own versions of Road, each in their own interpretations, without seeing whose is whose. Then we will re-arrange them anonymously, and have them attempt to guess who painted which piece. This will also aid them in fleshing out each other’s personalities, and how those different perspectives draw out different meanings from the same serene setting. By describing the reasons for their impressions in words, they will better understand their own senses at work–and better articulate their interpretations.
In contrast, the two works are dissimilar in colour, subject, rhythm, balance–and emphasis Sloan’s seems to glow outwardly, while Strunck’s work is dark—and ever darkening and lightening. Sloan’s art lies in the realism of the countryside, while Strunck’s boasts a rhythm that almost consumes itself, falling forever inward and pushing eternally outward, all at once, creating a tension and instability that permeates its overall visual impact. While Sloan’s work rolls in circles and in one direction, in harmony and in unity of balance and weight, Strunck’s piece relies on the emphasis of unreadability, uncertainty, unstability–and a potential for both birth or death. Sloan shows a road that seems endless in a land that sits perpetually between storming and clearing up. He keeps us blanketed by clouds, and comforted to think this scene may never end. Strunck, however, pushes the viewer to make a decision on which way the image falls, but does nothing to suggest a true meaning or path to the work. In these ways, then, the two paintings contrast greatly, yet share one unique feature, in exhibiting the facets of a duality that could fall in either direction of the weather at the flip of a coin. Indeed, both paintings point out the dual binary of the doubles, as in the pair of double-dots underlined in Strunck’s JF F-8 and the double trees and houses in Sloan’s Road, however, JF F-8 seems to encourage the eye to move, but never admits which way the light is really going, while Road is more reassuring in that, although the New Mexico scene seems to be just a snapshot of a day in flux—to the viewer, the spirit of that setting could last a lifetime.
Artists by Movement: The Ashcan School: New York City, 1908 to C.1913. April 15, 2009.
Galleries, Lakeside. Juergen Strunck. April 15, 2009. <http://www.lakesidegalleries.com/Juergen%20Strunck%20Page.htm>