New York

Jacob Feige

That Buckminster Fuller’s influence at present—especially on the heels of a recent Whitney Museum retrospective—is as pervasive as it is amorphous perhaps goes without saying (even if citing such exhibitions nonetheless confuses cause and effect). But given Fuller’s omnipresence, the question becomes, In just what ways does Fuller remain functional for practices in determinate media? It seems safe to say that few such evocations are achieved with paint, a rarity that made Jacob Feige’s recent show at Lombard-Freid, “After Dense Fog,” that much more affecting. In the ten exhibited canvases (of varying sizes, from modest to beseechingly grand), Feige renders nearly photorealistic oil-and-alkyd landscapes; his approach is documentary but also personal, the locations—New York, Colorado, and California—holding “biographical significance” for him, according to the press materials. In these works, Feige claims the revelatory potential of the American landscape, as understood through his own experiences of it, as well as through the deliciously foggy miasma of 1960s counterculture (think Drop City Commune or Fuller’s geodesic domes) or its more erudite precursor, Emersonian nature mysticism, so rampant the century before.

Paintings including the namesake After Dense Fog (all works 2008) effectively juxtapose clear-sighted vistas worthy of the Hudson River School with murky insights that manage to feel awkward and hard-won. Early Clearing shows a verdant hillside against a nearly cloudless sky. Superimposed on the scene, in a palette of light blues and walnut browns, is an almost-holographic layer of diamond patterns, linear flourishes, sci-fi-worthy striations suggesting wrinkles in time, and two floating spheres (one whole, one sliced in half). The total effect is one of impositions and impediments to sight that somehow become the central subject. Snow Bleached and From the Fire Tower similarly play visual incident against background: in these instances, distant horizon and smoke screen, respectively. The former, a wintry scene with barren trees and tall grass, upon which zigzags and the like make appearances, is marked by diagonal passages of what might be meant to represent snow, though it looks resolutely more like the paint that it is. Then there are the shadowy streaks that blur, bleed, and otherwise manifest as raw dye. Meanwhile, Dusk Accelerator enacts a nearly Wagnerian undoing, pigment and subject matter alike seeming to disintegrate.

These painted and poured layers admit Feige’s intensely physical process, which becomes impossible to pry away from his equally involved considerations of seeing (and self-reflexive explorations of seeing as picture making). Filtered through a psychedelic trip redolent of raw, new agey attempts at expanding consciousness, but mediated by the unyielding materiality of paint, Feige’s project has it both ways. So in Dusk Accelerator, a lamella dome hovers free of gravity—immaterial and obdurately material in turn. Feige’s paintings do not represent a wholehearted return to his predecessors’ ways, but a consideration of how to image what’s left of what we used to call the transcendental power of nature. This is a conceit that might grow tired very quickly. Indeed, one cannot but wonder how many picture-perfect sunsets occluded by the remains of utopian architecture or flawed human habitation, splintered and macerated into kaleidoscopic abstractions, Feige can turn out before they become mere formulaic trifles. Yet for now, the artist is, to channel a period staple, following his proverbial bliss, and the work looks better for it.

Suzanne Hudson