Critics’ Picks

Jessie Homer French, Spring Snow – Chernobyl, 2019, oil on plywood, 12 x 23 1/2".

Jessie Homer French, Spring Snow – Chernobyl, 2019, oil on plywood, 12 x 23 1/2".

Los Angeles

Jessie Homer French

Various Small Fires
812 North Highland Avenue
By appointment

Creation and destruction coexist in the natural world; their interplay features prominently in the work of Jessie Homer French. The artist, who lives in Southern California, has experienced the flowering and withering of the landscape up close, as wildfires and earthquakes have ravaged her environs.

Homer French’s flat colors and simplified figures evoke outsider or naive art, but those labels belie her artistic depth. Her sensitive layering of storylines, existential themes, and site-specific commentaries is informed by the work of her artist friends and local peers, including Ed Ruscha. In “Chernobyl,” the self-proclaimed “regional narrative painter” looks at the return of wildlife to the exclusion zone surrounding the titular nuclear power plant. (The paintings predate the April 2020 fires that sent radioactive material across the region via smoke.) In Spring Snow – Chernobyl, 2019, two wolves trudge through snow in front of a hazard sign and the iconic abandoned Ferris wheel of the never-opened amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine; in the background of the tiered composition is a row of trees speckled with green buds.

Curious details crop up in many of Homer French’s paintings: In Death & Resurrection, Chernobyl, 2018, a deer walks by a crucified Christ statue near a drab Soviet-style building. Yet the artist doesn’t dwell on these oddities. She gives equal weight to nature and culture, life and death, studying the rhythms of her area and others that have seen decimation and rebirth. Her pictures of Chernobyl are paired with images of other calamities—mostly those caused by humans, such as infernal wildfires—as well as pristine blue vistas (Hemet Lake, 2018, and McKenzie River Guide, 2019). Together, these works project hope that nature will exist despite, and long past, human recklessness.