Zolla/Lieberman Gallery - Distillation of Space - 2020

Measured Ground


In MEASURED GROUND, Rhonda Gates’ paintings occur at the crossroads of the legacy of landscape painting, Minimalism, Neo-geo and a primal connection to nature — a reliance on its natural rhythms and a dependence on the gifts it proffers for our survival. Influenced by the minimalist abstractions of Agnes Martin and the poetic but direct and flat landscapes of Alex Katz, Gates embraces an internal recognition that she’s an integral part of nature, a character in the drama. This connection compels a desire for authentic encounters as personal moments or places to be submerged as a catalyst for renewal and meditation. 


Modernity and science have driven humans to assess the planet, leaving no territory undiscovered and uncharted. GPS coordinates, maps and nets of latitude and longitude quantify all the accessible reaches of the world. This quantification doesn’t lend itself to seeing more beauty in the world but rather seeks value, merely analyzing and assessing individual components for consumptive gain, distilling beauty out of the measured landscape. 


As much as people strive for personal encounters in wild places that seem isolated or even off the grid, for a multitude of reasons, they experience nature via substitutions of facsimiles for the real deal. People curate experiences through digital portals and even a simple window. Sometimes we accept these substitutions out of necessity or lack of agency. For example, as Gates travels across the country, she admires the landscapes through her car window or rearview mirror, but continues to drive, content to file the memories of the views as appreciations of nature and replacements for actual experiences.  


As evident in Passing Ship in the Rain, Gates has reconciled her empirical perspective to create a new impression of the landscape. She incorporates grids and geometric shapes to organize and to present her subject matter. Ribbons of falling rain are reduced to vertical bands that overlay waves on the water’s surface, depicted as horizontal bars, portraying the poetry of air and light. 


In the painting Rapids I and Rapids III, Gates imposes a horizontal and vertical lattice of lines that serves as the painting’s visual structure, much like the sashes that hold the grids of reflective glass panes on a Mies van Der Rohe building organize the reflected view of its surroundings. Variations of repeated bands of marquise shapes filled with subtle color gradients represent waves in a river. Gates uses washes of diluted acrylic paint in the background of the paintings to suggest interactions between the surface of the water and the aquatic world below.


Gates invites you to explore personal connections to the natural landscape in fleeting everyday moments. In Windblown (Low Pressure), falling leaves carried in the wind are collaged in a grid pattern over acrylic washes to suggest an overcast fall day. Two drawings incorporating monoprinted woodgrain textures (2 Haybales and 3 Haybales) portray freshly mowed fields with rolled hay bales, commonly seen on a country drive. 


Light, color and texture are Gates’ chosen tools to document, analyze, and convey her interpretations of nature’s relationships in her lucid, elegant compositions. Gates absorbs the views, then selects attributes and physical structures to organize, distill and, ultimately, to divulge her visually poetic experiences to the viewer. Nuanced gradations engender sensuous, tangible qualities to space, distance and atmosphere. Graphite punctuates the atmospheric spaces while fleeting effects of light evolve within the architectural framework of geometric shapes. One can easily put him or herself in Gates’ place on an isolated river bank watching the sunlight dance with the shadows as the river current washes over submerged rocks and continues on, indifferent to the spectator.


The landscapes serve as Gates' visual language to examine her experiences as an intrinsic participant in nature: Ephemeral qualities of light, the forces and energy of nature, and other elements interspersed within that experience. She then reduces her observations into simplified units, analyzing her human relationship to nature and the planet. MEASURED GROUND provides an intimate exposure and poignant experience to contemporary landscape painting and serves as an entry point for internal restoration and contemplation.




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