Darren Almond, Timescape 00:51, 2016, acrylic and gouache on aluminum, 60 1/2 × 84 1/4". From the series “Timescape,” 2015–.

Darren Almond, Timescape 00:51, 2016, acrylic and gouache on aluminum, 60 1/2 × 84 1/4". From the series “Timescape,” 2015–.

Darren Almond

Darren Almond, Timescape 00:51, 2016, acrylic and gouache on aluminum, 60 1/2 × 84 1/4". From the series “Timescape,” 2015–.

Darren Almond realized that his “Fullmoon” photographic series, 2002–15, had reached a point of no return when he discovered that the famous white cliffs of Rügen, painted by Caspar David Friedrich, were plummeting into the Baltic Sea. His photograph of this site of erosion, in which one sees little more than a dense bank of fog that expands horizontally, becomes an image of the disappearance of the Romantic landscape and the sublime. Earlier, in Patagonia, the artist had noticed that the stars emitted a colored light at least as radiant as the luminescence of the moon. So now, in order to depict these constellations, he no longer turns to photography, but instead resorts to acrylic paints, which he at first applied to sheets of black paper with printed grids that presumably helped him place the patterns he’d observed in the nocturnal sky—that abstract and limitless surface from which our ancestors extracted precise measurements of time, including the calendar.

Subsequently, Almond stopped using gridded paper and undertook the abstract paintings on aluminum for his “Timescape” series, 2015–, eight examples of which were included in this show, “. . . beyond reach but within reason.” Has painting, in this instance, been conceived through the vocabulary and concerns of photography? Perhaps telescopic lenses and mirrors have replaced the camera lens. Aside from technique and results, there is the artist’s desire to make time visible. In his photographs, a long exposure allows him to record the passage of time within the image, to inscribe it on the surface. In the paintings, however, time has been manually reconstituted by applying layers of paint, one on top of another, in order to obtain a chromatic depth that slowly unfolds. Ectoplasmic or fractal forms, milky and evanescent, seem to pulsate. The darkness perceived from a distance is illusory, in that black is actually the only color not used in “Timescape.”

In a more discreet fashion, time also is demonstrated along the edges of the canvas, where the artist has left visible rivulets of each color he’s used. Within the depth of the support—a new dimension to explore, in a departure from photography—viewers thus can read, as if in filigree, the history of the painting’s creation, with a distinct enumeration of what only patient observation reveals on the surface: a chromatic profusion of darkness. The “Timescape” paintings might sometimes evoke the incorporeal surfaces of Jules Olitski or even Ad Reinhardt’s Black Paintings, whose colors unfold slowly from pitch-black to reveal subtle chromatic sections; their edges, however, have a more conceptual, or “nominalist,” nature, as if meant to list all the colors used to realize the surface. Yet pictorial abstraction does not seem to be a significant reference point for Almond, and when there is a more obvious nod in this direction, as in the single large-scale vertical work on display, it seems out of place. The paintings share with astrophysics an attempt to visualize the atmospheric medium and celestial matter. If “Fullmoon” indirectly attests to the solitary journey the artist undertook to arrive at often remote places, where he was sometimes subject to hostile climatic conditions, here the journey—of both artist and viewer—is entrusted to the imagination and to an image that “was neither symbol, icon, nor index, but rather atmosphere and process,” as media theorist John Durham Peters describes both clouds and painting.

Facing vertigo in the last of the earlier “Fullmoon” series and confronting the vacuity of the “Timescape” galaxy, all we can do is measure the limitations of our language for representing both spatial and temporal distance. It is a theme that, once again, echoes what Almond affirmed with respect to his 2007 sculpture Archive: “Primo Levi talks about how pathetic our language is, because it can only describe things to a certain scale. We can’t talk about the scale of the stars, for instance, because they are too far away. Our language is not sophisticated enough to deal with these things; everything just becomes a number and there’s no representation.”

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.