Frances de La Rosa

Ersatz Gallery

In her recent “metaphorical landscapes,” as she calls them, Frances de La Rosa looks back across the gulf of Greenbergian flatness and its ironic revival in recent abstraction toward the perspectival Surrealism of Yves Tanguy (without the burden of the Surrealists’ psychological program). De La Rosa paints rolling hills, round-roofed huts, square farm plots, and tall rectangular buildings, with occasional swooping, phallic vegetal growths that suggest Jack’s beanstalk as they shoot up through square holes cut in overhanging, ominous clouds. These are all painted in a broadly pointillist technique and glowing colors that suggest the nervous nuclear age while recalling the luminous quality of Munch’s late landscapes.

The strongest of these recent works are very large paintings in oil on canvas. Slash and Burn, 1987, the largest piece, depicts one large “beanstalk,” rolling green hills, purple-blue tilled farmland, red plains, columns of smoke rising from both huts and fields, and mattresslike clouds casting dark shadows. Baroque Landscape, 1986, features a nearly symmetrical canal bordered by high rounded banks, beneath an auroralike sky. Here, as in many of the other works, the foreground is very close to the picture plane, so that the nearest trees appear only as columnar trunks whose limbs and leaves are not visible, cut off by the top edge of the picture.

De La Rosa grew up in rural Alabama, has traveled recently in Central America and the Caribbean, and now lives in downtown Atlanta. She has brought these different experiences of space together in a competitive, combative balance. She is not simply making a statement about “encroaching society”—the title of one of her smaller works—for she recognizes the negative forces in nature and the potential violence of traditional rural life as well as the cold destructiveness of the urban environment. These are not romantic or sentimental landscapes. The works depict a garden planted with mutually antagonistic growths and structures. The almost rational perspective anchors these fantasy visions in a moral universe equivalent to that of fairy tales. Like the beanstalk, De La Rosa’s vines lead us ultimately to a normative insight—in her case, a reminder that nature is a great, awesome ruin that is still profoundly Other. Her nature is, in the language of the insurance policy as well as the religious text, that of the “act of God”: inspiring reverent spirituality but also capable of competing with the whole spectrum of human destructive potential.

Glenn Harper