Reclaiming the Grid: An Experience of the Painted Landscape Through Time and Gender
by Elizabeth Gorin
My creative project, in conjunction with my senior painting seminar, was the creation of a series of paintings encompassing a variety of issues and ideas. Primarily, my paintings are about tension between the form and meaning of two visual elements; the grid and the landscape. I believe that meaning can be found in the superimposition of the two dissimilar forms in a way that is visually multifarious yet continuous in process. The ideas which most motivated me were the ideologically constructed and often gendered history of landscape painting, the cultural association of nature with the feminine, and the historically masculinized import of the “grid” form. In order to explore these ideas, I painted a series of landscapes and then overlayed rows of painted marks over the completed landscape, forming a grid. By painting a grid over a landscape, I am forcing the grid into a dialectic with the landscape that includes references to my own body, gender, and art historical context. Because I wish to deal with both the feminine body and nature (these having time-based rhythms), I tied the project to the passage of time in a very specific way: timing the project by my own menstrual cycle. My project is also about the conflict in painting between the highly personal and autobiographical versus the non-referential and abstract, and between the poles of (imagined) objective viewing and the emphatically subjective. In the past, paintings were usually identifiable with one tendency or the other. For one example, the land was gendered in nineteenth-century American landscape painting as feminine just as in many cases feminine persons were subject to the same gazes and impulses as the land. In both art and literature of the time the feminine was associated with subjectivity, yet within the painted landscape there may be a varying balance between observation and interpretation. I wish to assert the landscape as subjective not because of its possible feminine interpretation but because of the (varyingly) subjective manner in which it is painted. The feminity of the project comes rather from the autobiographical content of its execution; the utilization of feminized timing and materials. For the other aspect of the project, traditionally within art history and specifically twentieth-century art theory, the painted minimal grid may be aligned with ideas of the objective, controlled, and impersonal. However, the inclusion of feminized timing and materials pulls the grid back into the realm of the autobiographical; it is reclaimed as both feminine and personal.
The result of the project was exhibited in the gallery of the Alma Thomas Fine Arts center March 17-22, as part of my senior exhibition entitled Nature Under Construction.