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Terra Incognito
By Pam Barrett-Fender

Dream state: Laura Von Rosk’s The Middle . . .

Laura Von Rosk
Gallery 100, through Jan. 23

There’s no question about the revered place of the landscape in the history of local art. Nature has long been the region’s most popular muse, inspiring masses of artists to do earnest studies of her forms, aiming to replicate, to re-create her majesty. It’s an honorable pursuit, to be sure. But some artists aren’t happy to re-create something, and are thus moved to break down and reappropriate forms in service of a new beauty or a new meaning. Laura Von Rosk is this kind of artist.

In her 13 new paintings, currently on view at Gallery 100 in Saratoga Springs, Von Rosk adopts the landscape as a language, conveying through it something more universal and more personal than the representation of a specific place. She conflates geographical elements from her memory to create places that don’t already exist in the physical world—an emotional topography of sorts. She combines forms the way a poet combines words, transmuting their meaning through context, eschewing narrative in favor of presence.

Through her intimately scaled surreal landscapes, Von Rosk gives us small glimpses into a psychic world that is both fanciful and dark. Her palette is an intense, stylized version of local color, rendering fields of vivid emeralds and ambers, luminous cerulean and cobalt skies, and indigo shadows on fallen snow. The crisply painted hillsides, valleys, trees and sky seem to be constructed of a smooth homogenous material—not the complex texture of actual landscape, but some shinier, dreamier matter. The effect is unearthly, fantastical.

These paintings, however, are not simply reflections on their own strange beauty. Von Rosk goes beyond the whimsy and light that first greets the viewer in creating what she refers to as “necessary places.” These places, she notes in her artist statement, are sometimes safe and other times dangerous. Indeed, it is the dark places that pull you in—the rhythmic shadows in a copse of trees, the dips and crevices of the land forms, the far-off places that define the visual depth (and emotional complexity) of this work.

Yet even as you are beckoned down the tree-lined paths, over the smooth hillsides and into the shadows, you are halted. These places are complete and self-contained, able to exist only in this state of ceremonial stillness and subtle tension. Their stillness lies in the symmetry of their compositions and in the tidy patterns of their forms. But the delicate order and completeness of the images leave no passage in. The glassy surface is a veil, a shiny barrier between you and the dreamy landscape. It absorbs your depth-seeking gaze and diffuses it across the surface, reminding you that you can’t really go there. To inhabit the space would upset its careful balance, mar its surface, and undermine its very structure.

Ultimately, the tension hangs between the artist’s invitation to enter her private world, and the measures taken to keep us out. Von Rosk has something to say, and something to protect. The images of her personal language are all at once beautiful and eerie, inviting and withholding, reverent and longing.

On exhibit at Gallery 100, along with Von Rosk’s paintings, is work by Clarence King, Virginia McNeice, James L. McElhinney, Robert Moylan and Harry Orlyk.

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