What is humanity’s relationship to nature? That question has been probed by countless artists over the centuries, continuously redefining what it means to live on our planet Earth. In continuing this tradition, Boston College artists bring their own interpretations of nature to O’Neill Library’s first floor gallery, where students may observe the great outdoors through a variety of diverse and unique media.
The installation begins with Tessa Flaga’s Scotland Series, three landscape photographs depicting the Scottish highlands. Catching an ephemeral snapshot of objects that carry with them the weight of history, Flaga, MCAS ’18, pronounces the vivid immediacy of seeing these age-old landmarks in person. The first and third are cast in monochrome, rendering each crag and shadow with a jet-black potency that invites the eye to stare and wonder. Icy rivulets course across the layered mountain stacks, as the wind-swept grass directs the viewer’s attention to the looming monoliths at center. Grasping the multifaceted character of these natural monuments, Flaga includes a a green-meadowed pastoral whose airy and lightful personality is quite the opposite of its sibling photos.
Sydney Bernal, MCAS ’19, takes us a few steps back from this epic orchestra of nature as a supreme and eternal being with with a pair of photographs humorously titled “To avoid student loans” and “He went to Australia.” Playing on the tendency for youths in particular to feign an insipid romanticization of nature, Bernal transforms the great outback to a barely visible backdrop that the photo’s subject, a bearded young man sporting a Australian slouch-hat, spies from his car window. The second piece depicts the same man operating on his car’s interior. He smiles blithely, the outback’s blurred desert fringes lingering vaguely behind him.
In contrast to the vast and farcical, Grace Cummings, MCAS ’18, transports us to a nature that is vacuous and vulnerable. In Lake Matilda, a boarded dock extends from a lake house into a white-swathed piece of cardboard separate from the contents of the primary canvass. The dock’s end is empty, without foundations, a precipice bordering on oblivion. Cummings uses a frail and ghostly palette to achieve a similar effect in her second piece Res, in which a tree-studded shoreline bends around a solemn and seemingly frozen lake. Violent, frugal brushstrokes enforce the bare yet evocative impression of an ominous landscape just coming into consciousness. As in her previous piece, Res omits any semblance of a concrete horizon line, transporting us into a dream-like ether in which this vision of nature has germinated.
While her perspective of nature is reserved and economical in a manner similar to Cummings’s, Claire Kantor, MCAS ’20, focuses on the childish character of untouched American landscapes. Paint Mines in Colorado juxtaposes the snow-white mountains of early Native American settlements with a blue sky that assumes a Crayola-like simplicity. Arches National Park likewise evokes the unmarred purity of the Western frontier, accentuating the orange-red buttes and canyons, which reign over their shrub-filled desert with the authority of royal castles. Not demanding anything extravagant from the viewer, these few photos relish in their elemental quality.
Who’s to say nature is everything but human? Without resorting to apocalypse scenarios or scare tactics, Reginald Anadio, MCAS ’21, depicts industrial smoke towers as unified with the untouched and mundane natural environment they inhabit. There appears to be no underlying conflict between human constructions and the world from which we pilfer the materials for building them. The brassy, bruised brushstrokes constituting this factory setting are even assigned a textured organicism that their surrounding foliage lacks. It is a calm and quiet meditation upon the connection between nature and artifice.
Whereas Anadio paints with a lax melancholy, as if channeling an earth not scourged by the negatives of human influence, Nicole Maloof, MCAS ’19, invests her world with a fruitful dynamism that exudes life and energy. Splotched with sponge-like textures that sweep in and out a variety of vanishing points, her three-panelled work Schartner’s Farm presents the countryside as it fades from noon to evening. The viewer yearns for a dusk that is never truly nighttime, for the sweeping interconnectedness of an ecstatic cosmos—best represented by fluid brushstrokes reminiscent of Van Gogh’s timeless pastorals.
Placed on the usual cork board that surrounds the first floor gallery in O’Neill Library, the artworks give glimpses of the natural beauty of the world outside. All around the world, nature paints pictures more beautiful than anything man can create. Yet these artists—in a small room in Chestnut Hill—have brought a little of that majesty here.
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff