In her second solo exhibition at Sullivan Goss, Angela Perko demonstrates that she has grown quietly into a position of preeminence among contemporary Santa Barbara painters who employ abstraction in their treatment of landscape. In dialogue with nature, her work glows with inner warmth, and the mirror of reflection yields to the lamp of imagination. In picture after picture in this prodigious exhibit, forms coalesce to achieve an organic unity, sidestepping the rational mind and burrowing deep into the unconscious. “After The Storm (2007)”, with its blue clouds and blasted tree stumps, offers one kind of mood. “Along Camino Cielo with Storm Clouds 1 (2006)” takes a subject similar on the surface-storm clouds-and finds something entirely different in it. Perko moves from the gnarled wisdom of Georgia O’Keefe to the heady creation of pictorial space in Cezanne seemingly at will, at home with an incredibly broad range of compositional strategies.
Elsewhere, Perko shows an affinity for the figure that suggests an underlying connection between the landscape and the body. In the marvelous “Leda and the Swan,” the recumbent Leda’s hair slips imperceptibly over some invisible barrier to become a flowing river in the picture’s foreground. It is just such magical effects that give Perko’s work a sense of playful divination, a celebratory activity designed to access perennial truths. Along these lines, her most ambitious work to date hangs at the end of the second gallery. “Campo Santo de Maya (2007)” is a kind of visual epic of the Californias, giving shape to multiple centuries and civilizations through lively juxtapositions and beautifully calibrated relations of tone, angle, and orientation. Balancing Mayan culture, the mission period, flora, and terrain, with a numinous sense of personal discovery, the picture brings into the gallery something like the scope of a great novel or a classic film.
Even with such a masterpiece in the room, the pictures that keep calling one back tend to be those uncanny renderings of Santa Barbara’s restless, rhythmic verticality. If “Santa Barbara Mission with Moon (2006)” serves as an introduction to Perko’s neocubist technique, representing the curves and paths around the mission as flat waves of bright color, then “Camino Cielo Peak Abstract (2006)” and “Goleta Beach with Towers (2002)” show the approach in two of its myriad manifestations. Finally, the extraordinary “Beach Cliff (2005)” finds transcendence in the upward thrust of our familiar bluffs, and a bright glow at the base of the trees at the top of the cliff suggests something just beyond the horizon.