It’s funny how something can be quieting and disquieting at the same time; such is the case with New York–based artist Anthony Goicolea’s most recent series of landscapes. The ambiguous forests, swathed in a surreal, zodiacal light, simultaneously cajole the audience closer while warning them to stay on their guard. It’s an invitation into a nocturnal dreamworld of visual inversions. “There’s no longer a figure in these environments that’s acting as a catalyst,” he says. “For me it’s kind of about coming across these familiar but strange environments, and they’re always at this time of day that’s kind of shifting and changing, whether it’s dawn or dusk. I’ve always been interested in that idea of transition, when things are not in one state or another, but they’re in between.”
N.E.S.W. is Goicolea’s most recent series of paintings, currently on display at Vancouver’s Monte Clark Gallery, and though his artistic practice has garnered him international renown and includes an impressive range of mediums, he is perhaps most well-known for his photographic works. “I actually went to school for painting, and when I moved to New York I went to grad school and I switched midway from painting to photography,” Goicolea explains. “Once I left school I no longer had a studio, so photography was a way more compact way of working.”
From there, one thing led to another. Goicolea’s highly constructed and meticulously coordinated compositions got him interested in putting together sets, and staging his photographic process as miniature performances in which he included himself; after that, he started to involve the landscape and the environment in his compelling images. “But after a while, I missed the immediacy of mark-making, so I went back to painting and drawing while still doing photography.” It’s easy enough to mistakenly assume that there is a photographic element in N.E.S.W.; the lines and forms are executed with such palpable accuracy and depth that they make the natural yet supernatural landscape disconcertingly habitable. “It hearkens back to some earlier photographs that I’ve worked on where I would go into the landscape and rearrange things, and photograph it,” he says. “I do a lot of post-production, so in a way this kind of feels like an analogue version of that, where I’m painting it instead.”
“I start with an idea, but the painting never adheres to it; it always ends up doing what it wants.”
Goicolea starts by silkscreening initial background images on translucent sheets of Mylar, which may or may not make it through to the final iteration of the work; he proceeds to paint the Mylar, building his twilight landscape intuitively on both sides. “I also use an airbrush to do these gradated skies and fields, and I layer with a lot of glazes. So by the time it’s done, the original silkscreening is pretty much obliterated and you can’t really see very much of it,” Goicolea points out. Only once it is finished is the painting put on a panel. “I start with an idea, but the painting never adheres to it; it always ends up doing what it wants. There’s usually a struggle and a fight, and in the end the painting wins.”
Another reason why these serenely eerie paintings seem to relate so effectively to Goicolea’s photographic practice is their resemblance to photographic negatives. With bleached trees standing against dark, unnatural skies—and with titles such as Phosphorescent Forest and Sodium Sulfur Streetlight—the chemical colours of the trees and skies could almost suggest the solutions found in a darkroom. “Having a colour shift is important for me,” says Goicolea. “I did a whole series of work where I was drawing my own negatives, and so I like that inverted colour scheme and I’ve always been attracted to colours that are kind of off, that don’t make sense, the idea of a green sky; it’s something that automatically makes it a little bit otherworldly and artificial.”
The theatrical themes that Goicolea incorporates in his photography, with his sets, stages, and scaffolding, come into play in N.E.S.W. in interesting, dissonant new ways, from the rows of ambiguous, abandoned chairs in Red Bush to the contrastingly geometric frames presented in the Artificial Support System series. Indeed, “otherworldly” is an insightful way to describe Goicolea’s N.E.S.W., and one which he repeats while discussing the work. “I think I would want the viewer to come away from these paintings with a feeling of recognition and familiarity, but also this dreamlike sense of otherworldliness,” he says. “I would imagine, like the first time you see the northern lights, or walk into a forest that seems like it’s glowing on its own, that feeling of excitement and fear and trepidation.” This sense of strangeness is ultimately what makes N.E.S.W. so exhilarating, mediating its meaning entirely through an unsettled, mesmeric experience.
Anthony Goicolea’s N.E.S.W. runs at Monte Clark Gallery until January 17, 2015.
Photos courtesy of Goicolea and Monte Clark Gallery.