Last Chance: Katherine Taylor’s new direction in “Moving Horizon” at Marcia Wood Gallery

Katherine Taylor, Roadway, oil on canvas,
20 x 16 inches
Katherine Taylor, Roadway, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
Katherine Taylor: Palm Springs, diptych,  2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 120 inches
Katherine Taylor: Palm Springs, diptych,
2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 120 inches

Katherine Taylor’s Moving Horizon and Marcia Wood’s wonderful new Midtown venue look great together. Taylor’s mostly new sky-, land- and waterscapes seem at home in conversation with the gallery’s milky light. (Through May 16.)

These new paintings are airier and convey less of an ominous sense of absence or displacement than her previous work. A 2013 piece from Spillover, Taylor’s show as recipient of MOCA GA’s Working Artist Project grant, and a 2012 piece hung in the back gallery serve as antecedents to these lighter, almost evanescent paintings.

In the atmospheric palette of her new paintings, color stops short, or breaks free, of its typical dissolution into gray. The nothingness of all the gray and brown in previous works helped carry the sense of emptiness and loss that has occupied her for much of her career. The work could have easily veered into the decorative, but the sense of movement she creates lends a necessary weight to the emptiness. Movement’s corresponding parallax view, say from the window of a moving car, creates an almost abstraction of the seemingly faster moving foreground against the relative stationary distance.

The lower halves of Park Median (2013) and Roadway (2015) recall Gerhard Richter’s squeegee paintings; it’s as if thick paint has been scraped away or swiped on with a loaded brush. The top halves evoke distance and memory, and especially in Roadway, are almost impressionistic — like Monet’s spires of the Rouen Cathedral seen through fog — and just as fleeting. The results are beautiful and disorienting.

Katherine Taylor, Roadway, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
Katherine Taylor, Roadway, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches

This work, in both small oils on paper and large oils on canvas, fluctuates between illusionism and abstraction, but Taylor pulls back from pure abstraction by including a recognizable human-made detail — a guardrail, a median, a solitary streetlamp, an empty swimming pool, a (perhaps imported) palm tree. The very presence of these manmade objects heightens a sense of absence and loss.

Taylor draws from personal experience. Born in Biloxi, Mississippi, she was only four years old when Hurricane Camille devastated the Gulf Coast and destroyed her family home in 1968.  Her memory of this devastation and the lasting effects of its aftermath — and the later tragic events of Hurricane Katrina — have dominated her oeuvre, which she describes as an examination of the “visual relationships that mediate our experience and response to destruction in the natural world.”

In her Oasis series at Wood’s Castleberry Hill location in 2009, Taylor explored what she called the “iconography of paradise as a return of the verdant natural world.” She identified the palm tree as a symbol of hope and “of memory –- of vacations, freedom, paradise.”

In Windshield Palm, (2009), the windshield of a car through which the lone palm was viewed delivered the emotional remove that made the painting successful. The palms are still present, but things seem to have lightened considerably. Painted in Monet’s Giverny colors of delicate pink, blue and green, Palm Springs, diptych, (2015) — at 48″ x 120″ the largest work in the show — carries a whiff of the sublime. Seen through the prism of memory, the painting escapes a simple loveliness and works as the blur of something fleeting.

In Moving Horizon Palm View (2015), only 6” x 8”, a similar palm tree appears through the frame of a passenger-side car window and, in this iteration, we are quite literally along for the ride. The result is intimate, almost visceral, and so much more effective. Perhaps her smaller paintings are more successful because they convey the sense of being a quickly seen or drawn study rendered almost as quickly.

There is an overexposed or blurred photographic quality to her paintings that may derive from the fact that she has painted from photographs in the past. It is unclear, and perhaps unnecessary to know, whether these were as well. The blurring has the effect of suspending the land- or waterscape somewhere between appearing and disappearing, becoming and becoming undone.

Taylor is best when she gives us something to want to hold onto. The diffused objects in her paintings — the pool or the imported palm — remind us of the impact humans once had upon the now abandoned landscape. Seeing these objects dissolve creates a deeper and personal sense of loss.

In paintings without those human reminders to mourn, the emptiness and evanescence in much of Moving Horizon can seem less profound, as if some of the shock has worn off.

Time itself is a moving horizon, a moving on, and moving on is the American Way. With the constant movement depicted in these paintings comes the danger of forgetting that which is so quickly gone from our sight, so that loss is only half remembered, and blurred, like other things that we have seen too much of. That may be the reminder Taylor intends.

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