Stopping by the 529 W. 20th street building on a Saturday afternoon gallery-hopping spree (or whenever you drop into Chelsea) is de rigueur. Virtually every gallery there has art worth seeing on a monthly basis. This go-around Kathryn Markel is presenting a show that includes some engaging and provocative city-scape paintings by Lisa Breslow.
What I’ve noticed about a lot of city-scape paintings is that the artist often shoots for a contrast between the permanent and the transitional. We often see structures that will seemingly last indefinitely with people flitting fugitively through them. The structures will last far past the time we are all dead and the implication seems to be that we are the builders, users and servants of the structures all at the same time. We are psychologically molded by structures and their functions, which we created to serve our needs, in an interesting type of feedback loop. City-scape artists will also often contrast stark buildings or structures against the sky to reveal the relative permanence of the structures within the changing framework of nature.
Breslow is doing something arrestingly novel compared to these aforementioned approaches. Even in her painting which shows cabs and trucks going down a city avenue, everything is of one ilk. Everything is of the same soft, patchy appearance: the sky, the buildings, the street, trees, vehicles. She seems to be repudiating the whole concept of permanence and transition for a more holistic vision or experience. Our sense of sight and our other senses play a con-game on us, and create the notion that the world is permanent and solid. As every good Buddhist and physicist, however, knows, the world is our illusion. To me Breslow paints the city as this type of illusion, where every visual element melts into other elements revealing to us that what seems permanent is fragile and volatile while inviting us to examine what might really constitute tangibility – namely our capacity to patch experience together, discern illusions and develop from our interaction with the illusions of the outside world. How, for instance, do these every day sensations allow for such amazing cognitive, emotional and moral development in us? How do illusions create the reality of inner experience and human development?
There is a relative or complete absence of the human figure in these works, which may, in fact, imply that Breslow wants to highlight or question which images or visual stimulation might be most meaningful to us. One implication might be that an awareness of the illusory nature of aspects of the outer world may lead to a greater dependency on and engagement of others or other minds or, using Buddhist terminology again, everything that possesses ‘Buddha nature’ (including the natural environment). Once we are no longer taken in by the illusion of sensuous reality, we can realize that human engagement and a submission to nature might offer the only real reality – then, perhaps, we can really begin to develop in a more humane direction and become even more sensitive to the outer world around us.