Exploring the Art of Global Warming

Samantha Fields show at Traywick, Faded in the Sun, derives from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.


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Traywick Contemporary hosts "Faded in the Sun" with art by Samantha Fields.

Today, we think of landscape painting as the most traditional genre of art, but in the 17th-century, painters’ new focus on the natural world was considered by the old guard as revolutionary, even blasphemous: no God behind the scenery, directing events, no moral or allegory? The Los Angeles painter Samantha Fields, who previously depicted wildfires and tornados, and, subsequently, in Halcyon, her first solo show at Traywick, night skies emblazoned with fireworks, has moved on to less overtly dramatic but no less challenging subject matter: the ephemeral effects of light, shaped by weather, the landscape, and the observer’s point of view.

The show’s title, Faded in the Sun, derives from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “He had not died but he had faded out like a film in the sun.” While most of us tend to oxidize and darken rather than bleach out when overexposed, the artist’s concern with environmental change—warming temperatures, deforestation, melting icecaps, rising sea levels—is the subtext of these new works, “documents,” to quote the gallery press release, “of fleeting moments and ephemeral occurrences: smoke lingering in the sky from nearby fires, the blur of city lights reflected on wet pavement, the blazing sun in unprecedented heat waves, or transient shadows shifting across a nighttime landscape.”

Fields’ mastery of airbrush technique—“painting atmosphere with atmosphere (in the artist’s words)”—serves the subject matter, with its infinite gradations of color and tone, perfectly. Hundreds of layers of thinned acrylic paint mist are applied to the paintings, which are derived from photographs, even replicating some of the artifacts of camera and lens, like light flares or soft focus blurs. In this way, she examines, in paintings like Heatwave 3, Eclipse, and Mt. Washington Sunrise, not only the subject matter, but also the subjective observing eye (an imperfect version of the solar God’s eye overseeing Van Gogh’s reaper).

Faded in the Sun, Sept. 10-Nov. 5. Traywick Contemporary, 895 Colusa Ave., Berkeley, 510-527-1214, Traywick.com. Open 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday or by appointment. 

This report appears in the September edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Sept. 8, 2016 at 8 a.m.

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