February 18 – March 25, 2021
All images courtesy of Launch F18 and Noah Becker
The title of Noah Becker’s show, “A Landing Field: Selected Paintings 2019-20,” is a compilation of skillfully constructed landscapes. Becker is highly prominent as the editor of Whitehot, the well-known contemporary art review. But he has also been an active painter for a long time, favoring open views of the outside world. The paintings of the last two years wonderfully example spaces made complicated by roughnesses in the land, small buildings, and other objects. Becker has said that he is more of an installation artist working with paint than a painter, and this makes sense: the spaces he fills with all manner of things can easily be likened to an environment instead of a two-dimensional work. There is also lyricism to his point of view; Becker grew up in Canada, and his audience may wonder if the extraordinary geography of the country-influenced him. Becker’s influences may well be disparate, but perhaps their variety is not so much important as the sense of nature not yet fully damaged by pollution or overcrowding.
Landscape with House (2019) is a marvelously poetic painting, with a pale blue sky and large clouds at the top, a house on the left, a thin tree with foliage high up on the left, and in the middle of an extended expanse of dirt and grass, a large rock with graffiti. Without the graffiti, the scene would look like a simple, idyllic landscape, but the red letters on the big stone sitting squarely in the middle of the composition break the pastoral mood completely. It turns an idealized place into a space that has been physically and spiritually vandalized, leaving us to guess the extent of the damage. One might think it is more than a little; here Becker’s “landing field” is not fully redeemed, given that the rest of the painting is so poetic. The forefront of the painting, a length of rust-red dirt and rocks, emphasizes the natural environs without giving in to a grand view that might invite sentiment. The idea of a place is as important to him as its attendant emotion.
Figure in a Landscape (2019) has a girl with blonde hair sitting in the middle of a field filled with rocks, most of them written over with graffiti. Behind her is a scene of trees with bright green foliage; on either side of the upper picture, we see two houses, each with reddish roofs. The sky again is a deep blue with thick clouds. One would be hard put not to see the scene as an idealized place–if it were not for the tags written on the rocks. It looks like the real world is always breaking in on nature in Becker’s art, surely a nod at the deeply troubling damage done to the environment. We remember that his landing field may be a forceful metaphor for his creativity, but it is also a physical place, one that he has gained attention as a place, even if the place is impossible to salvage. Landscape near an Industrial Area (2019) illustrates the point perfectly: a series of blue, misshapen rocks sit in a large field, with two outsize industrial buildings dimly portrayed in a haze in the background. Here even the lyricism of nature fails, made spiritually dark by the factories. Becker in these works is not only someone establishing environments that are openly traumatized by culture, he is also suggesting that civilized life has intruded into nature permanently, without gain. And he is right.