After Hurricane Katrina, a New Orleans-Based Couple Finds Hope in Southern Landscape
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes and studios in 2005, artists Sandra Russell Clark and Evert Witte relocated first to Long Island, and then to Santa Fe. When the couple returned to New Orleans several years later, their practices had shifted drastically: Clark began shooting her photographs digitally and Witte expanded his paint palette to include more light and more color. This month, The Lionheart Gallery is hosting an exhibition of their works, marking the first time their photographs and paintings are on view together.
Clark’s series “Elsyium: A Gathering of Souls” concentrates on the 200-year old history of above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans. Within each photograph she employs a wide range of focus, capturing sharp to slightly blurry to very hazy edges. In Tree with Pier (2000-2005), a black-and-white photograph from the series “In Search for Eden,” tree leaves are rendered with well-defined contours while blades of grass fade out into a foggy sky.
Clark’s approach to photographing landscapes is sentimental, nostalgic, and quite precious in its spatial specificities—which gives her work a Romanticist feel. But as the precise compositions in Abstract Pier I and Abstract Pier III (both 2000-2005) suggest, she also finds formal curiosities of interest. In both photographs, flanks of a pier jut out from a body of water at striking angles.
Witte takes formal concerns and explores them to an extreme extent: his abstract paintings are minimal, featuring reductive line and color patterns. His background as an illustrator and cartoonist is perhaps surprising, since his works are devoid of any figurative details. As he explains: “By simplifying mark making, color choice, and construction, emphasizing and making visible the human hand, I am trying to touch on the physical and visceral possibilities and limitations of painting.”
Checking the Calibration (2014) is rhythmic and frenzied: lines in golden tones criss-cross playfully across the canvas in perpendicular angles, vibrating against a background of amorphous shapes. Blue Skin (2014) is a more mellow version of Trespassing: blues and grays seep together in a more harmonious mood. And with The Education of Mr. A (2013), an even sweeter palette creates a linear synchrony in mauve, blue, and eggshell brushstrokes.
Whether it be a southern landscape or an abstract, imagined realm, Clark and Witte both approach space in a nuanced, individualized style—which makes viewing their works together a treat.
“New Paintings by Evert Witte and Photographic Works by Sandra Russell Clark” is on view at The Lionheart Gallery, Point Ridge, New York, May 2–Jun. 28, 2015.