Wes Hempel : Landscape Fragments
Nov 12 – Dec 31, 2005
"These small paintings, all sixteen inches square, began as an exercise I gave myself to explore different techniques of landscape painting. Using traditional sources, mostly seventeenth-century, Dutch landscapes, I would crop a small section (part of a tree, say, a bit of sky), sketch it loosely onto the canvas and then try to replicate it. Sometimes I referred to a source to cover only part of the canvas (the left half, for example) and then gave myself the task of making up the rest. On the canvases, I fused element together from disparate sources with the goal of making them work as a cohesive whole.
Though the paintings began this way, something else happened in the process that fascinated me. By taking just fragments from sources and thereby changing the focus of the original painting, I found that I was able to create wholly different moods. There were no longer any figures or buildings. Specificity of location disappeared. The point was no longer the pastoral or the bucolic (humans in nature), but rather nature itself, nature in nature, if you will. Yet, oddly, in many of the paintings there's the ghost presence of humans, a path, an unmistakable clearing in the woods, tire ruts in the mud. But rather than extolling the relationship between humans and nature, as in the Romantic tradition, the paintings seem to evoke the memory or fragmentation of Romanticism.
I think what excited me the most as the paintings progressed was that the element of time began to disappear. There's this trick that I like to perform. It doesn't always work, but when I'm outside on certain days and use my hand to shield my eyes so that I see only the tops of the trees, the clouds overhead, I can have the sensation of going back in time. Suddenly I'm fifteen again, standing on a street corner after school. Who I am in the present fades away – current obligations take a back street. I have only to watch the clouds, the trees waving in the breeze. If I happen to be in a quiet setting where there is just a stillness or the wind, I can imagine being in a different country. Some of these feelings, I believe, have worked their way into these paintings, that sense of timelessness and of the memory of place as opposed to an actual location, past and present fused together."