Craig Langager

Foster/White Gallery

Craig Langager’s 1977 solo show of abstract paintings consisted primarily of constructions of handcast cotton pulp paper, rhoplex and pigment in which the most recognizable image was that of an aerial landscape view. Rectangles with deckled edges, they also revolved around what Langager calls “atomospheric” color: sky blue, honey yellow, hazy pink. His new work shows a radical shift in color and scale. The dour, earthy palette is reminiscent of Brice Marden and certain paintings of Clyfford Still. The enlarged size sets in motion the underlying theme in Langager’s art: the relationship between geographical environment and contemporary art.

Not strictly paintings per se (the pigment is mixed into the material) nor sculptures in a traditional, free-standing sense, the new pieces fall into two other categories. Most of the exhibition space is filled with large (5-foot square) slabs hung on the wall. Two smaller pieces consist of five “planks” each; they jut out from the wall six inches, and extend horizontally six or seven feet. Both types are fabricated from similar material, however: the former is colored Portland cement poured over rigid urethane planes and the latter is cement over absorbent honeycombed fiberglass.

The urethane-based pieces vacillate between a straightforward depiction of geodetic survey or topographical maps (such as those issued by the U.S. Government) and a more painterly attempt to control color and surface. This dichotomy leads to a richly connotative art. Viewers are torn between accepting them as unusual cartoon versions of “strategic” sites, records of the aftermath of man’s intrusion on the natural environment or, more simply, as large geometrically marked-off blocks of one color with the same minute and chromatically varied surface activity present in the earlier “Aeroscapes.”

Rangefinder, Tangent and Zoned record satellitelike views of architectural interventions upon the land. (Langager’s art has always been connected to the idea of shifting land masses but his current work as coordinator of the King County Arts Commission’s forthcoming international symposium on land reclamation art projects [August 1979] may have had an even greater impact on these tendencies.) He has gone a long way toward exploring multi-value potentials of gray, that familiar hue in Seattle’s rainy skies. Drab mustard covers the whole of Rangefinder but beneath that wash, violet, blue, green, red and ochre emerge when viewed close up. The bellying surface of these five-, seven- and nine-sided and faceted wall sculptures is wrinkled in the cement-drying process and this action serves to underscore the brighter colors present upon inspection.

There are strictly delineated areas within Tangent and Zoned, which also echo manmade divisions on the globe and compositionally suggest the flat floor pieces of the Canadian sculptor Royden Rabinowitch. Polygonal outlines, as on a Buckminster Fuller dymaxion projection map, augment other structural irregularities caused by drying cement and cause deep shadows at the sides and curved base of each piece.

Langager’s growth as an artist is reflected in his subordination of color to structure in these 1978–79 sculptures. The “Aeroscapes” treated color in a way which, though appealing, made it a separate contrivance unconnected to structure, whereas the newer wall pieces are a breakthrough of sorts for him; they use somber tones as complexional covering for the unusual shapes so that, as in geological configurations, color appears inextricably wedded to material.

Perhaps the most striking pieces in the exhibition are Lap and Green Bank, quite different from the planar wall works. These two extend the geological metaphor but, in effect, compress the volume of the “geoscapes” into cement-over-fiberglass planks, recalling the way sedimentary rocks achieve their flattened “layers” as a result of great pressure over aeons. The components of both sculptures are separate and modular so positioning of the planks becomes variable; the artist has arranged two versions of basically the same idea.

Lap is an assembly of five narrow sheets a foot or so apart and bolted into the wall, hanging limply. They are pale green (like limestone) because of powdered pigment added to cement while it’s being mixed. As the colored cement dries over the flexible fiberglass, each plank has scattered incisions made on the upper surface. Green Bank jams four unattached slabs of urethane and rhoplex together. In the horizontal situation, bowing downward at both ends, color is startlingly primary. In this departure from the show’s predominant spectrum, bright red, yellow and blue are visible just beneath an overall vibrant dark green.

Matthew Kangas