Quiet Yet Powerful Landscapes, Constructed Dash By Dash
In "Woven Landscapes," a mesmerizing new show of Austin artist Bethany Johnson's work at Moody Gallery, one of the "landscapes" in question features rolling clouds across a vast horizon. The image, called "Horizont II," is the result of rows of horizontal lines -- each line itself composed of tiny dashes. It makes for a modern digital effect, as if this were a bad printout of a scan. The image is not revealing in any way -- this could be a rural plain anywhere. Except, it's not a plain at all. The image is taken from a photograph of a line in the road, cracked by wear and resembling, from a certain perspective, tumultuous clouds.
"Horizont II" by Bethany Johnson
In this piece and others in her solo show, Johnson cleverly plays with the intersection of nature, scale and human interaction. All of the pieces are composed of these meticulously placed dashes that you have to get up close to see. The lines run horizontal, vertical or both, in grids of blues, greens and reds that vibrate against each other, they're so close. As the name "Woven Landscapes" seems to suggest, there's a strong sense of craft. The methodical process used in creating these landscapes is very hands-on. Though they look like computer-generated images, they are the result of hours of mechanical labor.
Some of these ink drawings are inspired by images of actual landscapes -- vast skies and rural stretches seen during the artist's residency in Germany last year. Others, like the "Horizont" series, play with your sense of perception by creating an immense scene out of a tiny section of road or, in other cases, a close-up of a tree. Even in the smallest detail, you can find depth.
"Woven Landscape III" by Bethany Johnson
In contrast to these vast landscapes is the smallness of the works themselves -- they're mostly about the size of loose-leaf paper. The exception to this is a site-specific wall installation depicting a landscape. At 6.5' by 13', it's massive in comparison to the rest of the works, but it still consists of the same dotted lines, which are as straight and perfect as a, well, horizon. To accomplish this, Johnson didn't use a giant ruler, but coated string in chalk, pulled it taut, then snapped it against the wall to leave behind a line of chalk. She then erased the chalk where necessary to create the image of the landscape. In the end, the image is so faint, it's almost like it isn't even there -- you'll have a difficult time trying to photograph it, that's for sure. But like its ink predecessors, it's an incredibly quiet yet powerful work.
"Bethany Johnson: Woven Landscapes" is showing at Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt St., now through August 18. For more information, call 713-526-9911 or visit www.moodygallery.com.