New York

Don Worth

Witking Gallery

Don Worth’s photographs unveil secrets of the natural world while ordering visual information in a highly cultivated manner. This show features a wide range of the artist’s color and black-and-white work from the past three decades. Worth seems to go for broke in his color photographs, overwhelming the viewer with intense colors and myriad details. By contrast, his black-and-white works are testimonies to the spiritual serenity evoked by open expanses of nature. Worth manages to achieve two radically different but equally intense pictorial effects.

The composition of the photographs—in particular, the use of pattern—is so unerringly precise and graphically “correct” that the decorous aspects occasionally overwhelm the subject. Worth seems almost protective of all these retinal stimuli: expressiveness is kept within very strict boundaries. Indeed, he seems inordinately reticent about revealing any mysteries that might be found in such exotic objects as those depicted in Abutilon Blossoms and Leaves and Caladium Leaves, Mill Valley, CA, 1987. The center of the composition features a small, ornately patterned rectangular tray, depicted from above, which is covered with little orange blossoms and large leaves trimmed in black, their green ridges and scarlet red veins looking ready to burst and bleed. The image reaches its saturation point when the artist sets the tray on top of a flat design of tightly connected, multicolored butterflies. Worth saves what could potentially be a chaotic clashing of elements by means of close visual structuring.

As a relief from this complete filling up of the picture frame, there is a set of exquisite black-and-white photographs that offer metaphoric readings of nature. Their subtle shades of gray and spectral whites make trees, ground, and sky seem like otherworldly visions. In Trees and Fog, San Francisco, 1971, we see a progression of thin, extremely tall trees in a forest. The tree tops are ensconced in a thick veil of fog that locks into the sky, giving the impression that the trees reach up and disappear into the heavens. As opposed to Worth’s crisp, precise color setups, the sense of space here is blurred. Rows of trees seem to merge into an indefinable space, like apparitions.

In Cactus: Trichocereus Schickendantzii, San Jose, CA, 1976, velvety black space becomes a flattening device that covers a large cactus plant, acting as a backdrop for the prickly growths read here as glaring white. There is some ambiguity as to the specific identity of this object—the cascading lines of bright starbursts that define the contours of the plant look like lights on a carnival ride at night, or casino signs in Las Vegas. Worth is most successful when he uses photography to delve into the inherent subtext of still images.

—Jude Schwendenwein