The obsidian-laden Glass Mountain in California’s Inyo National Forest is the site and the inspiration behind Sean McFarland’s new show at Stephen Wirtz Gallery. The exhibition, “Glass Mountains”, is McFarland’s assemblage of photographs of light-strewn landscapes, mystifying natural oases, and dark recesses. Unlike traditional landscape photographers, however, McFarland is known for his deception; many of his most moving and fantastic works are actually collages—adept composites of the artist’s own photography and found and archival images. For “Glass Mountains”, McFarland used photographs taken at Glass Mountain as a point of departure to create a body of work that at once pays homage to the natural world and explores themes of ephemerality, transparency, and veracity.
A California native, McFarland cites changes in landscape and human interactions with nature as a major inspiration. For his “Dark Pictures” series, several of which are included in this show, he seeks out the wild and captures it in his photographs for viewers to experience like a diorama at a natural history museum, where time and light are frozen. In one such work, Untitled (Branches), the work is so dark that the viewer is transported into a moonlit forest, squinting to be able to properly perceive the rocky, tree-filled composition.
Stunning snapshots of nature are interspersed through the showing, including misty waterfalls, snowswept mountain ranges, and a picturesque aspen-lined forest, where trees appear to be in the process of falling. In reference to his earlier “Pictures of the Earth” series, McFarland explained, “it’s all constructed, but it’s all photographs of things that are possible.” In “Glass Mountains,” he continues this dialogue between constructed and authentic images, offering examples of both. McFarland asks the viewer to differentiate between what the eye sees and what the camera sees, as in Echo, where the dramatic clouds might normally signify a natural disaster in-the-process; but, knowing McFarland’s practices, it is more likely the product of careful craft.
Offering a variety of images and media techniques, the show itself is a landscape, spanning McFarland’s career and creating a poetic, narrative dialogue, parallel to the one so often found in his individual works.
“Glass Mountains” on view at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, through Dec. 21.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory