Redefining the Landscape Site Specific Sculpture by Jason Rogenes Paintings by Michael DeJong Philip Feldman Gallery Pacific Northwest College of Art 1241 NW Johnson, 821-8892
At a certain point, it seems that landscape paintings are interchangeable, merely glorified postcards of similar settings. This can be especially true within the Northwest art scene, as the beauty of the environment transfixes many artists. Twelve months of the year, local art aficionados can expect a bevy of landscape paintings to sift through, and this circumstance can lead to desensitization and boredom.
However, there are occasions in which artists push the formulaic approach to this subject matter and come up with a new way of examining natural surroundings. Painter Michael DeJong provides such an example, within a series of both oil and watercolor landscape paintings on view at PNCA. DeJong displays a rather innovative platform for the consideration of various natural terrain.
DeJong's selection of imagery is not unusual--in fact, they are essentially updated versions of garage sale landscapes, i.e. majestic mountains paired with babbling brooks, etc, etc. The point at which DeJong moves away from the status quo is by the manner in which he presents the scenic splendors.
Centered within large pieces of toothy white paper, DeJong paints a small, circular landscape. Installed in the gallery, these works appear sparse, even though they depict grand scenes. It is this minimal presentation that creates most interest; the negative space is an ironic play on the usual honoring of the landscape in paintings. The disproportionate amount of blank paper invokes certain emptiness in the viewer, teasing out a sort of longing for more. Additionally, DeJong's use of the circle mimics the notion of the camera lens. It is as if he suggests that the most appropriate or honest way to present the landscape is through the camera--which is the way in which many of us capture and record the grandeur of the outdoors.
Aside from the series of watercolors, DeJong also presents a selection of oil paintings. Again, he utilizes the circular format, placing small round canvases into gold antique frames. Within these works, DeJong expands on the idea of nature as precious. The scale and ornate presentation set up the objects as certain treasures, which, depending on one's disposition, can be gleaned as ironic.
Though it is not overt, DeJong seems to suggest a level of critique with his work. Or at the very least, he entreats us to really consider our relationship to the landscape. By way of scale, he creates an unusual power relationship. Rather than the traditional circumstance of the viewer being encompassed by a mammoth landscape painting, DeJong reverses the roles. Looking at his versions, the viewer is turned into a giant, peering into portals to find nature miniaturized. It is this change-up that makes DeJong's work rise above the norm and activate more interest in the landscape than the mere beauty of it all.