Friday, June 6, 2014

LA Art Critic Betty Brown on Julie B. Montgomery

Los Angeles Art Critic Betty Brown writes 
Traces of the Ineffable: New Paintings by Julie Montgomery

The touch of an infinite mystery passes over the trivial and the familiar, making it break out into ineffable music…The trees, the stars, and the blue hills ache with a meaning which can never be uttered in words.
-Rabindranath Tagore

Julie Montgomery creates elegant images of trees and sky and sea that seem to shimmer beneath her meditative gaze. Then she inscribes gentle, elusive texts over them, whispered phrases of human presence responding to the landscape. Erased, obscured, and evocative, the words comprise painterly palimpsests; viewers are compelled to fill the ellipses in order to construct meaning. 

However rubbed, washed, and scraped, the images in these paintings refuse to disappear--just as nature resists all of our insensate attempts to obliterate her. Instead, Montgomery’s ethereal forms emerge as diffused veils of jewel-like color. Adumbral jade green, lusty garnet red, or regal jasper brown, they recall the treasures hidden deep within the planet’s core and seem to imply that what we see here above the horizon is merely an emanation of the earth’s interior light.

Critic Arthur C. Danto argues that what makes something art is its use of rhetorical (and generally metaphorical) ellipsis. Viewers participate in the co-creation of the artwork by filling in the gaps generated by such ellipses. If everything is given—if the landscape is reproduced in painstaking scientific detail—it is not art for Danto. Nor is it art for Montgomery, who presents but does not describe, implies but refuses to insist. Subtle and suggestive, her hazy curtains of trees and hills and sky coruscate under the barely perceived calligraphy.

Encountering Montgomery’s paintings is like staring out across the fog-covered Pacific and seeing the Channel Islands revealed as the ocean mist lifts on a sunny Santa Barbara day. Gazing westward, we know the islands are there, even when they are obscured by haze. Contemplating Montgomery’s art, we know the poetry is there, but the elegant erasures and ellipses force us to look further, to look deeper, to look within, in order to perceive the shifting strata of meaning.

Tagore’s lines form a fitting parallel for the ineffable nature of Montgomery’s paintings: “The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.”

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