In mountain towns throughout the West, straw-hatted plein air painters pull over at scenic vistas or at the base of dramatic mountain-scapes, hatches of their Subarus and SUVs pitched while they interpret land on canvas. The work, which, to borrow a phrase from Matthew Coolidge, amounts to little more than "advertisements for nature," shows up in airports, hotels, and trophy homes -- places where a pleasant, agreeable aesthetic are particularly desirable.
Gregory Botts's work, on the other hand, provides a different reading of the public performance that is painting outdoors. Splitting his time between New York City and the former New Mexico mining town of Madrid (now a popular tourist destination), Botts built the collection "The Madrid Group" from works begun at his mountain retreat from 2000 to 2009. Plenty of other Western artists depict landscape from within an abstract, or even conceptual, framework, but the work of plein air artists is so easily associated with tourist-driven fall arts festivals. Botts breaks us from his association by questioning his own romantic notions of landscape. He confronts his own presence as an artist in a scenic, mountainous, tourist town. This is particularly evident in the fragmented pieces, as the Yellow Sky Fragments series or the works done by memory, as in the Blue Remembered Hills series.
However, the series that best articulates his vision falls under the heading Madrid, Night Studio. Take, for instance, Madrid, Night Studio, All One, falling #1 (2004-2008), a large-scale painting in oil and acrylic. What appears to be a full quarter of the canvas is black. Taking up a full length and width, it is cut only by white, five-sided stars like those in an illustration for children. The remaining quarter is filled with abstract overlapping shapes in vivid solid colors. We must stand back from the 115-inch-by-72 3/8-inch image, across the gallery to appreciate that we are viewing a painting of paintings against the dark sky, as if Botts (a student of Fairfield Porter and Paul Georges) is reconstructing the landscape around his studio from memory, while that very same landscape is obscured by night. He disrupts his own romantic gaze through the process of revealing it. And yet, void of particular dialogues on the romanticized West, the work still fits nicely in places where an agreeable aesthetic is desirable.
Download: Gregory Botts: The Madrid Group