New York

Patricia Johanson

Rosa Esman Gallery

If Lewis Baltz’s theme is Landscape Lost, Patricia Johanson’s is Landscape Regained. In drawings and models she renders natural forms (a leaf, a flower, a fern) as landscapes. “The leaf becomes the earth in microcosm,” she writes, and its design becomes that of the landscape, a topography. The result is not merely a leaf or a fern writ large: the grand scale turns the leaf into a site. Not only does the leaf (stem, veins, edge, etc.) become a thing like a cliff or terrace, island or bridge, but the whole should also evoke old ruins, Japanese gardens, burial mounds. One should not see the design; it should have to be read, or intuited as one intuits the design of a novel. Such a design dreams of paradise, and here questions arise: Is such a design natural or is it an exemplary artifice? Is a leaf-as-landscape a Blakean vision (one that sees infinity in a grain of sand) or is it an extreme literalism?

Johanson’s act of scale—and here it does seem an act—confounds the order of things. Based in art and in nature, the projects refer to many things. Of one she writes that “the piece moves from Baroque sculpture, to architectural design (canted walls; bridges; arches), to a surrogate landscape (streams; cliffs; topography), the ‘subject’ finally concealed by size.” Yet, the subject of each image is clear; it is the leaf, the fern, the flower. All the references begin and end there. To some this is her achievement—the resolution of many things into one form. To me it is troublesome. The works seem textual in the sense that many forms (e.g. garden, landscape, architecture) exist together; in fact, they are narrowed in the sense that all the forms are recouped by the image.

The landscape regained is much Nice a fairy-tale world—a world charmed by an image, a world scaled psychologically (if not physically) to the child in us. It returns nature to us; it is a disguised anthropomorphism, for a landscapeas-leaf is only once removed from a landscape-as-body. Since Ruskin, we have seen our image, our emotion, in nature, as an error, a pathetic fallacy. I am not sure Johanson transcends it, but, then, our nature is not the same as Ruskin’s. It is a heterogeneous zone, not urban, not rural. Perhaps Johanson seeks to stamp it as “natural” before it disappears altogether.

Hal Foster