November/December, 2008

Sarah Walker: "Beacons, Floaters and Lost Objects" at Gregory Lind Gallery
by Dewitt Cheng

"Beacons and Floaters," 2008
Sarah Walker, acrylic on panel, 20" x 21"
Photo: Gregory Lind Gallery

Sarah Walker's father was a neuroscientist/psychiatrist who researched brain function; her mother, a neatnik who peremptorily jettisoned her daughter's rock collection; and her stepmother, conversely, a hoarder of mounds of memorabilia, chronologically stratified, around which visitors gingerly tiptoed. It's appropriate, then, that Walker is interested in how we scan and process information overload nowadays, with each wave of data obscured, but also shaped, by its predecessor. The continual overwriting of data in the "immaterial spaces" of the internet and the human mind is Walker's theme, and her striking land/mindscapes are interfaces or membranes caught between opposing systems: "Collidescapes," to use her term.

Considering the paintings geologically may be useful. The artist works on paper or panel placed on the floor, laying down multiple washes of water-thinned, highly-pigmented acrylic, each stroke responding to the previous one and suggesting the next. Brushstrokes take on an eroded, solarized or dragged-brush appearance because Walker wipes away the residual wet paint before complete drying. The abstract topographies accruing from these dwindling concentric deposits resemble "rugged archipelagos" or mountains in contour maps; could we see them vertically exaggerated, in section, the paint layers would resemble sedimentary geologic bedding.

Walker then subverts her topographic surface by interweaving geometric elements, circles, grids, spirals and rays, presented frontally, or in perspective recession that read as partially buried or submerged structures and force the viewer to re-envision the previously terrestrial matrix as air or water. Furthermore, she paints these embedded artifacts as holes, windows or mirrors revealing other geometrical systems. We all remember Dali's "paranoiac-critical" double images; some may also remember Abstract Illusionism, a short-lived 1970s style in which high-impasto brushstrokes and blobs were endowed, skillfully and pointlessly, with airbrushed drop shadows. Walker's microscopically-detailed, cosmically-scaled abstractions also serve double duty, taking on different interpretations depending on how closely or synoptically you look: what you see depends on where you stand. With her contradictory and fugitive suggestions of astronomy, geology, cartography and various scientific imaging systems, Walker walks the line between abstraction (death to clutter!) and an encrypted and polyvalent representation (I just know it's here somewhere...) with a sure foot as she watches paint not dry.