Despite all the art world talk about movements, ideas and themes, sense of place has remained one of the most consistent influences on personal creativity for at least a century. How much of Edward Hopper's sense of isolation, which art historians say permeates most of his work, is really a result of his accurate rendition of the cold-looking light that suffuses so much of New York state? How much of Matisse's warmth was influenced by his long stays in the sunny south of France?
When painter Michael Kessler was growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, he gravitated to Andrew Wyeth's spare Keystone-state landscapes with their stoic sense of repressed drama. But after he moved to New Mexico, his work became much more geometric and panoramic. Which is probably as it should be: New Mexico is surely America's most graphically stratified and abstract state. It is quite surreal, for reasons related to its contours and aridity. From atop a New Mexico mesa, it seems you can see forever.
Maybe that is why so much of Kessler's work looks geological, with a subtle interweaving of the impact of man and nature. Much of this stems from his method of adding and subtracting in a way that mimics the processes of sedimentation and erosion in the natural world. In Current (pictured) a broad band of sandstone red is flanked by pale seas of gypsum white and meandering traceries of ambiguous origin, and the net effect suggests facets of man and nature built up over time in contrast to the more spontaneous gestures of a Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. Like the landscapes that inspired them, Kessler's paintings reflect an organic cycle of building up and tearing down in what amounts to a modern art equivalent of timeless natural processes recreated on a more intimate, domestic scale.
Michael Kessler: New Paintings
Through Sept. 28
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St., 525-0518; www.gallerybienvenu.com