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A Master

If you are anywhere near Hudson, don’t miss this superb exhibition of Clay Sorrough's paintings at the John Davis Gallery

362 Warren Street. It will be up until July 13th, Thursday through Monday 11 to 5. It is on the third floor of the Carriage House

From my very first glimpse of Sorrough’s work, it struck me as uncannily close to my own sense of place and landscape today. He captures a deep shift in the underlying emotional meaning of our environments even when they appear to be the same as always. Here is what I wrote for the press release:

Clay Sorrough paints from within, rather than “from life;” but the landscapes that appear on his canvases are not fantasies. They arise out of an immersive experience of the physical environment of upstate New York with its layers of occupation and abandonment, cultivation and surrender, construction and collapse, a continuous pentimento, all within the much longer story of nature itself. We have, for centuries, seen in our American landscapes an expression of our collective interior life, changing, as history has moved forward, from a faith in our heroic exception from the tragic laws of history to a more complex understanding of vulnerability and error, dashed promise and slow realization that, indeed, we may be subject to those rules after all.

Sorrough’s s work is right out of the zeitgeist of this moment, rendering landscapes that, to this onlooker, expresses our national interior moment as a people. They are moving in the way of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s work, especially the night paintings’, in which with a warm dark layering of paint, Ryder captures the uncanniness of the presence of the world and the loneliness of our inclusion in it. Sorrough's work is different in that he captures what seems like a kind of darkness in light, in decay, in forgetfulness, in futile struggle. Though the same loneliness and largeness comes through in Sorrough’s work, it is full of the partially hidden presence of multiple generations, levels upon levels of experience in a natural world now irreversibly altered by that occupation.

These paintings are elegiac, but never romantic, always contemporary, edged with uncomfortable paradox and yet gorgeous. If there is desolation, or fear here instead of promise and hope, or an absence of the homey naturalness of human settlements in providential surroundings, that is not superimposed as ideological cant. It arises, instead, in nuanced complexity, out of the landscape itself, speaking to us, through the artists paint and tools and his meticulous and time deep process. These paintings can seem to have arisen out of our dreams, speaking to us in an altogether unfamiliar register, asking who have we become, where are we?

But lets not struggle any longer to capture in words what is so much more articulately expressed here in this very beautiful and very powerful work.


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