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Kate Bright

It is said that the Inuit have 24 names for snow. The young British painter Kate Bright needs only one, because her painted “snow” is just a means towards an eponymous pun on her name. Snow is resplendently dazzling white and Bright’s new snow scenes are that and more. All of Bright’s canvases have incorporated light in the landscape and expose the folly of Modernism: sensuous, almost psychedelically art nouveau skeins reflected off the resinous surface of water, light radiating off snow topped mountain peaks, and now these spectacular snowscapes.

Originating from photographs that Bright herself has taken, these Neo-Romantic paintings are pictorially flat, or Post Flat as Barry Schwabsky has declared them. Photography simply provides veristic structure; the paintings themselves are not photorealist but somewhat loosely painted like Katz, Bartlett or Kilimnik landscapes. They are more about contrasts, both of value and surface. Their stark distinctions of dark linear branches almost obliterated by snow have more to do with the touch of paint application, composition, and history than the creation of a realistic volumetric illusion. Because of this, they are somewhat deceits, not true landscapes in the traditional sense.

Deep landscape space was created in the Renaissance with the invention of one point perspective privileging the God-like vantage of the authoritative viewer.  Then starting in the late Nineteenth Century, the falsehood of the pictorial window was deconstructed and replaced by material truth; concrete reality and artistic authority was invested in art. To a certain extent, photography catalyzed and contributed to this exorcism and painting became an honest surface with certain arrangements of forms.

Bright’s new paintings are about this denial of depth through the repeated use of line abutted against flatter planes of color (snow white or sky blue). The white of the snow (the white of the paint since it is an illusion) contributes to this effect. Pictorial depth is also thwarted by the addition of glitter. The modernist purity of the white and the driven snow is sullied by this coating; they are white without being innocent. The glitter is plastic, not in the painterly connotation but the vernacular material meaning. The flecks pop them to the surface. This material and its artifice, like the resin or Styrofoam beads on earlier canvases, becomes her signature material like Michael Raedecker’s embroidery threads (who studied at Goldsmith’s the year after Bright). Their signification, glistening wintry light, is physically embodied as literally as by a fluorescent tube.

The tracery grid of dark branches against white are more drawing than painting, their linear obsessive marks determined by the index of the photographic source. In Thicket for example, the dense composition is laden with horizontals and even denser with snow (prominent shadows of heavy accumulation occur on the branches). Some paintings you can enter via paths. Others are more ambiguous; you don’t know the perceptual entry point – should it be read from human height six feet off the ground or looking up from a squirrel’s liar? In other paintings such as Avenue, you are visually blocked by a haze of snow. Bright’s skies tend to flat blue not infinite space.

Yet for all their skirting of issues of decorativeness, gayety and kitsch, her illusion and her use of surface is functional. Bright both (re)presents and presents her radiant images. She provides an equivalency, a referential contact point to real experience. This communication is what art is all about. This is what makes Bright’s project so intriguing.

Sid Sachs