Visual Art

The Sensuous West: Photography by Edward Weston

Eiteljorg Museum

Through Oct. 9

Having just presented a Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition in January, the Eiteljorg again stages a thorough study of yet another iconic American artist, Edward Weston (1886-1958). He's so significant that his black and white photographs have been commemorated as postage stamps. "Saguaro" (1938); photos by Edward Weston are on view at the Eiteljorg. (C) 1980 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. Photograph loaned by The Capital Group Foundation.

Weston's artful works contested the conventional documentary and portrait nature of photography in the early part of the 20th Century, more specifically the 1930s (he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1937). His enlightening perspectives of the western landscape are subtle abstractions of the literal, the overlooked ordinary.

Eight hundred of what he thought were his best images were printed for a published 50th anniversary portfolio in 1955. Weston suffering from Parkinson's, his son Brett (also a photographer) worked with him to create eight sets of each print in 1954. We see many of these in this exhibit.

"Winter Squash," a silver gelatin project print from this time though a 1930 negative, exemplifies Weston's modernist aesthetic. The solitary squash's organic, bulbous, form encroaches on its empty background and gives the impression of a weighty sculpture. The intense, bounced, artificial light, and the resulting chiaroscuro, adds to the visual disproportion and monumentality of this idealized object seen so out of context that it takes a second for its identity to register. It's a striking image, moody in its simplicity and symmetry.

"Art must be more than pattern, form, for otherwise anyone could learn to compose by rule and be an artist - which could never be," a Weston quote in the gallery reads. Pattern appears to be elemental to his work, but not a dependent or defining factor. "Tomato Field, Big Sur," a landscape shot taken in 1937, print from 1954, is pattern filled as rows of tomato plants appear as polka dots. Planes in this and other segmented landscapes merge with little definition between them, all sharply defined by the sharp sun and Weston's skill. The landscape becomes anatomical with sunlight as a key compositional tool. The abstraction is still literal.

"When I am confused by the chaos into which the human animal has gotten itself, I think of your cabbage sprout, the thrust and urge of it - and I feel sure again that there is a forceful order in the universe. I am grateful," a quote in the show by the late art critic Pauline Schindler reads, referring to a sprig from a cabbage stalk shot comparably to the squash. Weston's images, where every detail is a detail, further emphasize his heightened awareness of the multitude of intricacies and cycles occurring in nature. This show is a meditation on American art, on Weston, on nature, that's not to be missed.

The Sensuous West: Photography by Edward Weston continues through Oct. 9; 636-WEST; www.eiteljorg.org.

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