Philadelphia

Tom Judd

Snyderman Gallery

Though they look back to the tradition of 19th-century American landscape painting, Tom Judd’s recent paintings also reaffirm what is fundamental to their own iconography. In his earlier works, the landscape is an open field in which a lone figure might sit on a sofa or appear statuelike on a pedestal, and is as likely to be found surrounded by potted house plants as by trees. In this interiorized exterior, it was the “modern idiom” (the title of a 1981 painting) that Judd was exploring, and his primary sources were the magazine advertisements of the ’50s—the decade of his early childhood. His improvisational painting style and his signature quick, drippy brushstrokes recall the same decade—that of the Abstract Expressionists. By the end of the ’80s, Judd’s landscapes were decidedly Western in flavor, engaging the cultural mythology of cowboys and Indians, before being emptied of human presence to reflect the singular vision that characterizes his paintings today.

Drawing on another example of Americana, Judd extracts his current landscapes from the celebrated photographs of Carlton Watkins, Henry James Jackson, and Timothy O’Sullivan. These sublime and mysterious visions of the American West speak of some originary time and space that resonates personally for Judd, who grew up in Utah. Given the image-laden history of his work, the immense absence depicted at this juncture represents a decided shift in practice. Several of the paintings pair radically different photographic views that are only linked by the formal relationships Judd develops. Often, one of the images appears to be a detail of the other, but this is never actually the case. What prevails is the sheer physicality of the work—its object status—and the interest of it is often greatest when it is viewed at close range. The pictorial illusionism of the photographs, which are captured within yet mediated by Judd’s gestures, is met by the aggressive presence of the found and sometimes manipulated grounds. Discarded sheets of used plywood and sewn drop cloths bring their own material history to the surface; hinged and hammered metal fragments add corrosion and hardware to the visual mix. The space described is vast and deep, but Judd’s thin, fast application of paint encourages these textured grounds to rise.

The lack of narrative content in Judd’s work contributes to our uncertain reading of these revisited landscapes on their reclaimed surfaces. The meanings of the individual elements, altered by history and time, now meet on the nostalgia-ridden plain that Judd asks us to contemplate.

Eileen Neff