SANTA FE, NM.- When was the last time you stopped to really see the sprawling cottonwood in the parking lot, a rabbit bush dry and dormant for the winter, or the elegant segmented stems of a horsetail plant in a neighbors front garden? Seeing is different from looking. Seeing takes more than eyes -- it requires relationship.
Anne Applebys Winter into Spring, presents work which brings the wholeness, the experience of seeing into physical existence on the walls of the gallery. Combining her love of color and abstraction with the intimate knowledge and relationship with the natural world which she acquired studying with an Ojibwe elder, Applebys work challenges viewers to see rather than look.
Each of the pieces in this spare, serene exhibition is based on Applebys observations of a particular tree, plant, or geographical location during the seasonal transition between winter and spring. The bulk of the pieces are oil and wax on wood panel subjects taken mostly from the West and Southwest (juniper, cottonwoods, rabbit bush, a New Mexico winter garden). Additionally, there are three aquatint etchings, two with Western themes (False Iris and Horse Tail) and a special six-panel aquatint Verona Suite which was commissioned by collector Panza di Biumo while Appleby was in Italy in 2002. This piece takes the poplar trees along the banks of the Adige River as its subject.
Appleby applies multiple layers of paint, up to thirty, on each panel of these multi-panel works. At the end of the process, wax is applied, cutting glare and adding a softness and depth both to the color and surface. The various colors and shades subtly show through a pale sage green glows with an undercurrent of sandstone-orange, a dusty pink seems to hold a mysterious pewter-blue within its depths. The history of the layers can be read along the edges. Like the oil paintings, the aquatint etchings are created by multiple applications of color for each panel creating the similar effect of a color-echo coming through.
These paintings reflect the activity of an intimate relationship over time. Each panel highlights a different part of the plant a catkin, a leaf, a seed, a bud. However, the color-echoes are more than just simple or singular observations they are a recording of the actual experience of seeing a particular cottonwood, a certain juniper, over days, weeks. The history of color shift in the painting is also a history of colors changing as the plant grows, hardens, dies, is reborn in spring and of the change from a cool cloudy morning to a bright sunny mid-day. In this way Appleby is recording more than just multiple parts of the plant or even the lifecycle of the plant she is recording days, seasons, weather patterns. The works, taken as a whole, illuminate the relationships between time, weather, and plant, between Appleby and the light, the tree, the color, the declination of the sun.
To see the whole in this way takes practice and attention -- Appleby has worked with both painting and plants for years. The viewer studying the cruciform arrangement of four panels: palest icy aqua, soft gray, light umber tinged with purple, faint bluetinted orange, will need to take time to let the histories, the colors, enter into them. The viewer must find a way to enter into relationship with the panels: recall the memory of a cottonwood, the feel of a still-hanging last-year leaf between her fingers, the shadow in the rough-textured bark. The depth created by the color layers becomes cell depth. Not the depth created by technique, but the depth of the leaf itself, the three-dimensional quality of a plants cell. The architecture of Applebys panel arrangements are accessible human-sized and approachable. Each of these technical details are an aid to the viewer, allowing her to fall into relationship with the work.
As Appleby has said, My paintings arent about the other world. Theyre about our place in this world. What nourishes the soul is the experience of being in the body. Each of the pieces in Winter into Spring is a part of a larger whole, a touchstone from which the viewer may re-orient herself, bodily, on the planet. The paintings of Anne Appleby remind us that art is about more than just how we see the world art reminds us that how we see is determined by who we are.