by Carrie Sandin
Autumn // 2004
The Outdoor Palette
The mixed- media work of Wendy Clough bears a resemblance to sections of fifteenth-century altarpieces. Composed of different panels, the sacred art tells a story through images reverently rendered. In Clough's secular art, she focuses on the natural world portrayed from memory.
Scenes from the Passion would fill the lower compartment, the predella in quattrocento Italy. Clough uses a repetitive pattern of tree trunks to establish a meditative, visual rhythm that leads us through the rest of the painting. Diagonal trunks echo the slopes of the mountains above, allowing gentle reverberation between the two images, while verticals thrust up and merge in a single, large trunk. Actively moving the focus from near to far and then to very near, Clough invites us to experience her work, through which she ‘attempts to define...the sense of loss and longing that accompanies both memory and landscape.’ Her gilding of the background (and use of old frames in other works) serves to evoke a past era. Just as the single tree is juxtaposed against the landscape, simple forms within a simple composition turn personal memory into a universal experience.
Boulder Daily Camera
Flora and Fauna Exhibit: Artists take on nature in library show
Artists often grapple with the intricate yin and yang of those largely contrary notions of nature and culture, and no matter what the resolution, there's usually a sense of the fundamental human importance of exploring the relationship between them. This isn't art for art's sake—it's more like art for our sake.
With "Flora and Fauna," a sparely hung exhibition of paintings by Wendy Clough and a sculptural installation work by Gail Wagner now on display at the Canyon Gallery in the Boulder Public Library, that earnest exploratory concern is tempered by both sophisticated technique and playful innovation. It makes for a less naive show than is sometimes the case when artists make that trek into the wilds.
Clough is quick to acknowledge her idealization of the natural world—for metaphoric as well as nostalgic reasons—and her formal choices subtly reinforce her reasoning. In three pieces from her "Shrine Series," arranged on freestanding dividers somewhat like an early Renaissance triptych, the key element of each piece is a small, almost iconic rendering of a nature scene that hovers within a slightly larger, less precisely drawn landscape. In turn, that landscape is ensconced in a salvaged wooden frame. Gold leaf within and multiple layers of varnish on top of the images add a transcendental sheen.
A series of five oils and mixed media on board that hang on the north wall of the gallery employ a similar strategy, placing an exquisitely rendered image of trees in a central oval surrounded by garland designs. The effect is reminiscent of antique posters, as if for a circus, but here, nature is the main attraction. And wrapped up within Clough's positioning of the natural as either spectacle or divine is an understanding of just how much our "cultural" mind contributes to our perceptions.
Clough's quirky paintings are quite different. These are mostly small—some extremely so—and they've been put in antique-looking frames, many of them gilded. All concern a red tree or trees in a dark, predominately brown landscape. Their mood is either dreamy or nightmarish—it's unclear which.
What is clear is that both shows are well worth checking out—and soon, because they close this weekend.
“Wendy Clough's Neo-Gothic, animated landscapes extend the American tradition of organic abstraction.”