For urbanites who yearn for open spaces, Cory Steffen’s Lost and Found Scapes offer a vision of the countryside reclaimed. Though sublimely rendered, these images of trees, rivers, vineyards, and skies amount to an ironic departure from traditional landscape fare. Steffen differentiates his pastoral scenes from the plein air school with distressed collages of financial and development news that lurk beneath his photorealistic tableaus. Employing a Kurt Schwitters sensibility, Steffen collages his hand-crafted, finger-jointed wood panels with housing advertisements and market quotes, then distresses them prior to painting. Unlike the tension carried by Schwitters’s collages, however, the serenity of Steffen’s vistas has a calming effect on the frenetic clutter of media over which he paints.
“Money Does Grow on Trees” is a peek through eucalyptus trees to a tranquil valley vineyard from which a golden glow emanates. Upon closer inspection, the panel displaying this refulgent Eden is wallpapered with stock quotes. Similarly, the amber waves of grain blanketing “The Last Oak” are superimposed over the Los Angeles Times‘ California section and stock quotes from the financial page, while the turquoise oils framing the golden hillside of “Windowscape III” are brushed over fragments of the Times‘ Business section, including advertisements for commercial housing developments. “Windowscape IV” seems a more straightforward landscape-save for the “Equal Opportunity Lender” logo faintly visible in one corner of the tangerine-hued surround. The superimposition of nature on industry implies development in reverse: Just as land development deals are accomplished with the stroke of the pen, the artist reclaims with a stroke of the paintbrush landscapes once lost to commerce.
Steffen describes his work as “the interplay of light and shadow, temperature and distance.” Those elements are gracefully expressed in the darkening skies, billowing clouds, and quiet, oak-speckled hillsides of his intimate yet expansive “scapes.” Viewers who inquire after the locations of Steffen’s landscapes may be surprised to learn that they exist only in his art. Yet his Golden West palette of rich ochres, umbers, and ambers imparts a familiarity to his Arcadian vistas that makes them believable.
Cory Steffen: Lost and Found Scapes is on view at Gallery Ocho, 1221 State Street, #8, through December 1. There will be a discussion with the artist on November 9. For more information, call 965-3054 or visit galleryocho.com.