This preview first appeared in Art New England, May/June 2016.
Cover image: Phyllis Crowley, Golden Pier, 2016, 20″ x 68″, archival pigment print
Phyllis Crowley’s Strata, an exhibition of large-scale archival pigment prints, dazzles with abstracted, layered landscapes. Many were taken on outer Cape Cod: visions drenched in magic hour light. In making these works, Crowley fused together separate photographs—as many as ten in some instances—shot in the same general location, to produce elongated scenes that mimic the experience of viewing an expanse. Her horizontal stretches allow the eye to wander, tranquilly, across a surface.
These gorgeous photographs deserve patient looking…at a distance, up close, and multiple times. Stand still and drink them in. Some are identifiable locations: a marsh at low tide, shells and twigs decorating the sand in organic crosshatch patterns, sky reflected and glimmering in the water and mud. Or a lineup of piles at a wharf, glowing rosegold on a late autumn afternoon and punctuated with stripes of creamy sea. There is a musical rhythm to these compositions; Crowley notes her love of playing the piano.
The work is striking on several levels. They are visually interesting and showcase the patterns and colorfields found in nature. But these are also emotionally resonant works that do more than simply record moments. By seaming together multiple photographs, Crowley creates a sensation of place, or in her words “a narrative without a story.” The artist talks eloquently about the different lenses through which we perceive the world and the concept’s relation to her practice. Her earlier photographs capture images distorted through various surfaces: swimmers beneath glassine ripples of pool water, traffic lights shining beyond a windshield crusted with defrosting ice. Even in a clear field of vision, perception always blocks us from the “there” actually there. Crowley shows us how manipulating a picture can distill it to its essence.
In her New Haven studio during a pre-exhibition visit, I squint in front of Blue Rhythm (2016), a moody swath of shimmering indigo flecked with textured copper bits, like stars in a night sky. There’s a raw, familiar quality that I cannot place. Smiling, Crowley reveals the shot’s location: the roof of her home. How did that happen, exactly? “Well,” she said. “I saw it was beautiful.”
Strata: Photographs by Phyllis Crowley
City Gallery, New Haven, CT
May 5–29, 2016
Opening Reception: May 7, 4–6 pm