LAINARD BUSH: FROM EDEN TO UMWELT
BY DOUGLAS MAX UTTER 2014
One of the great strengths of painting as a distinct art form, at least in the modern era, is its ability to incorporate some of the large insights that science has contributedto human understanding, and to extend the principle of direct observation to classes of things that cannot in fact be seen by the human eye, or be touched in the course of normal events. In many ways Lainard Bush’s paintings offer vistas that would have been unimaginable even in the relatively recent past. Whether spread on cave walls, sacred niches, or the great halls of palaces, painted images have always engaged the imagination and the unconscious, conjuring realms of myth and dream. Yet Bush’s works are able to add another dimension to these ancient metaphorical depths, as they invoke an uncanniness specific to modernity, an “aura” of sorts characterized by extra-human powers of observation and analysis.
Paintings like his “Umwelt (2012)” and “Venecia (2014),” scoop out pockets of color and form, sanding and scraping through layer after layer of acrylic paint to open rich veins of visual information. Many of Bush’s essentially expressive works have a panoramic or encyclopedic feel, like high resolution views of a planet completely measured and subdivided, yet packed with passionate, unpredictable incident – with life. “Metroplex II (2009),” goes even further, conjuring an inconceivably vast, Borgesian construction, like a city built from flickering cinematic projections.
Bush’s dramatic streams of visual invention are underwritten by a vivid sense of painterly conviction. Each subsection, each cell linked together in his gesture-filled, taped and scraped visions, seems like something – a reality or a report infused with objective truth, more actual than symbolic, like photography or scientific imaging. Part of the engagement his works offer is their urgent, and mysteriously unanswerable, demand for recognition, as objects with a special status and their own claim to independent existence.
All of his paintings function as representations of the infinite, the endless differentiation and repetition of an expanding universe, midway betweencurrent scientific imaging techniques and age-old elaborations of sacred geometry found in the traditions of many cultures and eras. In the narrower context of contemporary painting Bush’s works trace their descent most directly from the aesthetics and philosophy of abstract expressionism, but their relationship to the mandalas and walled, paradisiacal gardens of eastern traditions is also evident and important to an understanding of their impact.
Perhaps most importantly, these paintings – especially works like “Umwelt” and “Over the Rainbow (2013),” which are so densely and meticulously wrought as to seem like whole populations of paintings or painterly events rather than like single works, derive much of their power from the way that they combine Eastern and Western sensibilities and projects. The overall intuition of pattern and order that they convey is like an overarching, divine wind, billowing and shaping them, yet in the attention they pay to minute variations in linear tension and tonal balance they are clearly also dedicated to the honor and beauty of the discrete, the individual. Perhaps in the end they are truly Western in a highly spiritual way, noting and transcribing freedom and the extravagant variety of life, as fecund and celebratory as Walt Whitman at his most expansive. That they are able to access and reference our era’s techno/scientific “Umvelt,” its cognitive gestalt, accentuates this modern type of attention to the evanescent even further. A perspective of life and time that includes points of view recorded as megapixels of information, obtained digitally from the halo-like orbit of a spacecraft or reconstructed from the auras, the heat and resistance of our own internal organs and neural microstructure– is a kind of perceptual wealth no previous generation or artist has ever known. The world we thought we knew expands exponentially, and in Bush’s hands so does the potential subject matter of the very ancient art of painting.