Time to Repaint

Gregory Botts: Jigsaw Poetry. At Sullivan Goss, An American
Gallery. Shows through January 14.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

madrid_night_studio_5.jpgMuch 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.


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