Where Am I?

William B. Dewey and Patricia Hedrick

At The Easton Gallery. Shows through May 21.

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

If you’ve been to Easton Gallery more than once, you probably think you know what to expect there. The gallery specializes, after all, in contemporary landscape painting, mostly by local artists of local landscapes, and mostly in a Realist/Impressionist idiom. The current show, featuring William B. Dewey and Patricia Hedrick, however, isn’t quite what you have come to anticipate. Both artists play strongly off of expectations about contemporary landscape in disorienting and provocative ways.

Dewey stands out as a photographer in a painting gallery, though this need not mean much. Indeed, there are a few pieces by Dewey that do look like plein air landscapes. However, his most interesting works undo the sense of scale that landscapes usually establish. These may be photographs of nature, but they do not situate us securely in relation to the scene. A single wave can produce a composition almost identical to an image of the coast from several hundred feet up. Until you look at the label, Dewey’s shots of the Elkhorn Mountains might seem like the folds of some convoluted tree. Knowing that “Scammons Tidal Pattern” is an aerial photograph, one struggles to situate oneself, all the while confronting visual cues that seem to indicate a surface of swells shimmering only inches away.

Hedrick’s works, on the other hand, situate the observer firmly in space — although their strong curving sweeps and dramatic contrasts of light and dark are more Romantic than Impressionist or Modern, somewhere between Gainsborough and Turner. Even more unexpected, latent surrealism is found in some prominent details. “Burn” features a ridge of hills — perhaps in the Santa Ynez valley — with lovely, trailing plumes of fire. “Slough with Crane” gives us a view of UCSB, perched neo-classically on its cliffs, but with a construction site hovering ominously above the unadulterated landscape. Elsewhere a view is marred by the flare and exhaust of a launching rocket: this is “Vandenberg Spring.” In “Horizon,” perhaps the most gorgeous work, the sky and earth meet at a thin line etched into the pastel across the entire visual field. And yet, they meet in no other way, rendered on two different scales, in two different visual languages. There is nowhere to stand on the ground, much as we might want to wish those smudges into the shape of a road or furrows. The cloudy sky rushes in far too close, more three-dimensional than the earth extending beneath it. The fissure between us and where we think we are, hinted at elsewhere in the exhibit, has in this work broken cleanly — and beautifully — open.

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