San Diego

Astrid Preston

Patty Aande Gallery

Astrid Preston is a landscape painter based in Santa Monica. Although she is not a photorealist, all of her work is based on photographs, sometimes photos taken from magazines. In previous shows, her paintings featured light that had unreal, perhaps even surreal, overtones, forms that tended to be defined by hard edges, and orderly compositions with very definite and strategically composed vistas. During the past year, Preston began to demonstrate a more romantic bent. Although she had often depicted images of suburbia, she began to paint suburban night scenes, using the dramatic effects of artificially lit interiors and dark shadows to evoke the kind of ambiguous tension between the real and the surreal that she had previously achieved through compositional artifice. Her recent show consisted of several of these together with even newer, extremely small-scale paintings.

The newest works indicate that Preston is moving toward an even more traditional vision. These paintings appear to be timeless, in that they give no clear signals about the world today and they avoid any references to contemporary painting issues. Preston’s paintings look in some instances, such as Afternoon Landscape, 1987, like Corot’s early Roman plein-air sketches, or in others, such as Pines, 1987, like Caspar David Friedrich’s late works. There is an effortless subtlety to these small paintings that lets the beauty of Preston’s technique shine.

One of the hallmarks of her work is the remarkable attention to detail. Even the smallest works do not succumb to a quick-sketch mentality. In Mave, 1987, for example, Preston’s control over a tonal range of the color green shows a refined appreciation for a color that is often difficult to master, and turns this composition of bushes, trees, and grass into a miniature tour de force. Some of the paintings shown here are based on her immediate surroundings in Santa Monica, but none of them display a heavy-handed regionalism. Neither do they rely for effect on a reduction of the landscape to its most obvious, easily recognizable elements, as Edward Ruscha has done with the California sky. Preston, at 42, has proved herself to be a painter with a sophisticated technique and a distinct vision. Perhaps, once again, this is a sign that clear-cut traditionalism can be refreshing and important, even if it’s not exactly new.
Susan Fruedenheim