Gregory Botts: Jigsaw Poetry. At Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery. Shows through January 14.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Much of this exhibit is literally a palimpsest of Greg Botts’s recent paintings. More than half the pictures were created using a two-step process. The images begin as large, painted plein air sketches done in daylight in the various landscapes — from Aspen, Colorado, to Madrid, New Mexico — that Botts calls home. The artist then transports these Zen-like landscapes to his various studios where he arranges them in stacks against the wall. When he has a combination he likes — and this usually involves tipping at least one of his gorgeous cloudscapes on its side — he paints another picture of his own stacked sketches. These secondary images are then shown in the gallery: paintings of interiors complicated by the presence of several cropped sections of outdoor landscape paintings.
If this all sounds a bit contrived, that may be because Botts is so blessed as a painter tha t he has to work hard to challenge his own ease. With a landscape style as open and lyrical as his, the intricacies that develop when the original pictures jostle against one another on the new picture plane are like great, jazzy harmonies. There’s a moment of estrangement when one first recognizes the process behind the effect, but after seeing a dozen of these marvelous compositions together in person, the technique recedes into the background and the tremendous confidence and verve of the imagery takes over.
“Madrid, Night Studio 5,” a symphony of yellow, blue, black, and gray, takes the strategy of paintings-within-the-painting a step further by including one of the second generation works in its foreground. There’s also a cropped piece of a large, target-shaped figure that calls to mind the work of another artist revered among painters for his recycling not only of images but also of studio detritus — Jasper Johns.
The largest pictures on display, however, eschew the technique of the stacked multiple images in favor of more conventional abstractions, such as large monochromatic emblems and heavy, super-saturated verticals. These approaches are held over from earlier periods in Botts’s development, yet they retain their interest and integrity here. In fact, “Ocean at Point Sur” and “Here or Now, or Orange Square,” succeed in making the show’s strongest statements and belong on a very short list of the most interesting paintings to be shown in Santa Barbara in 2006. Greg Botts has achieved mastery in a most difficult medium, and the rewards are now available for all to see.