Nicole Strasburg’s paintings, now in her show Tidal Change at Sullivan Goss through June 3, are not landscapes. Landscapes, after all, show us the lay of the land: what is fixed. Nor are her works seascapes, those homages to constant change, to the unending play of evanescent water and light. Rather, Strasburg’s tidescapes and sloughscapes are about the liminal places where land and water collide. They are about the ways the land is constantly eroded and remade by water; they are about change-both resisted and desired-and its inevitability.
In these works, Strasburg is mining one of the most profound veins in her earlier work, and it is hard to imagine a subject that has more archetypal resonance for where we find ourselves in the world. The artist reveals herself, once again, as more than an unfailing eye and a confident hand, as someone who does more than just hit the composition, the color, and the brushwork exactly right every time. She reveals herself as sage. The paintings say, over and over, “Yes, everything is always sliding away from us; but look at what that is really like. It’s not just a place we can live; it is where we will find our most intense joy.”
This show also demonstrates Strasburg’s fearlessness. If you remember previous shows, even ones as recent as a year ago, you know the artist had a good thing going. She had a style that was more than likeable, a blissed-out breathlessness. Something like that would be hard to give up. But Strasburg has pressed beyond earlier strategies to harder, even more important work. In this show, she takes on not just dissolution, but also solidity. Works like “Coral Sand” and “Sentinel 02” consist of almost nothing but clear lines and flat planes of color; in them the momentary world takes on gravity and permanence. As attractive as these works are, though, and as good as they will look in contemporary interiors, they seem more important as a part of a process of artistic calibration. Strasburg, herself resisting stagnation, tests how far she can go in this direction.
The masterpieces, though, are works like “Twilight Puddles” and “Morning Point,” works that step back from pure disegno, reincorporating it into a larger conversation between what is fixed and what is at play. In one part of “Tidal Wash,” for example, the sand banks through which the water flows seem to cohere, to create clear shapes. They form a center that might hold, a substantiality that makes the shimmering chaos of shallow, streaming water in the foreground all the more poignant.