The richly colored flows of pigment across the copper, wood and paper surfaces of Pam Longobardi’s paintings create primeval landscapes and underwater vistas that evoke the cycle of creation and destruction that governs the universe.
From a distance, “Anthropocene III (Thundershirt)” — in “Endless” at Sandler Hudson Gallery through December 14 – resembles traditional Chinese landscape painting informed by Buddhist understanding of the eternal. The small painting in the installation “Event Horizon: Economies of Scale ” recalls the sublime seascapes of J.M.W. Turner or the transcendent canvases of the American Luminists.
These spiritual and romantic associations are disrupted, however, by the rest of the piece: a 19-foot line of worn and weathered plastic debris culled from oceans around the world and arranged in ascending size. The tone shifts to tragic, as the viewer confronts the ugly reality of global pollution, the culpability of contemporary consumer culture and the realization that this non-biodegradable detritus may be more truly endless than human civilization itself.
A surfer who has spent her life connected to the sea, Longobardi started the ongoing “Drifters” project in 2006 after discovering enormous deposits of tangled fishnets and plastic objects washed ashore on remote beaches in Hawaii. Like the Crochet Coral Reef Project’s “Toxic Reef” — a “reef” crocheted from yarn and plastic ocean debris – it involves her removing and documenting thousands of pounds of plastic waste from oceans around the world and using the material for sculptural installations.
The mixed-media paintings in “Endless” offer the recent Hudgens Prize recipient some relief from the physically and emotionally challenging work of “Drifters.” Yet, the message, though more indirect, endures. The “Anthropocene” paintings combine natural processes such as copper oxidation with man-made and found materials to reference the struggle between man and the natural world. (“Anthropocene” is the proposed name for our current geological era, characterized by the unprecedented human effect on the global environment.)
“Anthropocene I” combines drips and flows of rusty reds and ochers to make a primordial, cavern-like backdrop for a river of foamy, cream-colored paint that splashes down around blue-grey, rock-like formations in the center foreground. Spattered throughout the image are hints of magenta and pink, glowing spots of yellow, and small, glittery patches. A bright cobalt blue cascades down a rust-colored formation in the lower right, and to its left a small rivulet of brilliant red flows around a blue-grey outcropping, forming a tiny rainbow at the top.
The rainbow might signal hope that humanity can reverse the effects of its pollution. It might also refer to decorations found on many plastic children’s toys, just as the glitter and metallic confetti that Longobardi mixes with her copper and paint artificially beautify the natural colors of oxidation.
In “Anthropocene II (Fracking).”Longobardi, who recently won the Hudgens Prize, addresses the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, in which fluid is injected into the ground to fracture shale deposits and release natural gas. Organic, white spills with multicolor highlights, push against thick black fields of paint on top of a rust-brown background. “Anthropocene III (Thundershirt)” is a shimmering mixture of copper and earth tones with bright blues, pinks, blacks and grays in formations resembling mountains, valleys and vegetation.
A thundershirt is a tight coat for dogs, designed to reduce anxiety. Can the captivating colors, the beautiful, delicate drips and tiny details of Longobardi’s abstractions reduce our anxiety over the fate of our planet? Or, like the oranges and purple sky of Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” (1872) – which depicted pollution from factory smokestacks on the horizon — are they the ironically beautiful result of the devastating effect that consumer culture has had on our earth?
Home page: Detail of “Anthropocene III (Thundershirt)” (2012)