Annie Herrero, installation image (photo by EG Schempf)
One of nature’s many gifts is that it can inspire so many interpretations of the world around us. A look at Annie Herrero’s exhibition “From the Ground, Up” and Jane Booth’s “Earth Water Sky” at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art proves just that. In addition to a familial bond, Herrero and Booth also both focus their artistic production around nature. “We play off of each other sometimes when we’re talking about our work,” Booth said, “It’s seamless. It’s not like there’s a shift or a translation… It crystallized for me that the source is the same.”
Upon entering the gallery, Herrero’s works first invite the viewer to immerse themselves in a somber wooded landscape. A delicate attention to atmospheric perspective paired with the harsh spotlight of the sun creates a fascinating series of images. Although Herrero grew up in Northern California, the hedge rows and the Midwest skies feel like “home” to her. In an interview with Artspeak Radio, she said, “The work at Sherry Leedy is an homage to the landscape of the Midwest.”
There are four figurative paintings in Herrero’s series, many of which comment on the female body’s relationship with nature. A couple of those works marry ideas of violence and nature. For instance, “States’ Rights,” depicts a naked woman lying on the forest ground with a coat hanger in one hand and blood on her thigh. The painting addresses the recent trigger laws in Missouri. In “Hunter/Hunted” a naked woman on her knees holds a rifle to the ground as she looks out into the wooded distance. Although seemingly not afraid, she is alone.
The difference in canvas size is one of the first things that struck me about Herrero’s exhibition, in which she juxtaposed larger canvases that combine landscape and figuration with sets of small landscapes. The “Hedge at Fruitbat Farms” series captures moments from noon, afternoon, and early evening, recalling the same experiments of Claude Monet’s “Haystacks” series and “Rouen Cathedral” series of the late 19th century. These works beautifully appoint light and time as their subjects, perhaps more than the land itself.
Booth’s works, on the other hand, tell a different story of nature. Abstracted textures bleed and scuffle across the canvas, producing many layers. “My main source is the rural nature around me, which is where I work,” Booth said. “My paintings don’t represent ‘earth water sky,’ but that’s where they come from.” She recalls the stunning views she experiences daily from her studio’s sliding glass doors in rural Kansas.
Booth’s canvases invite an infinite number of interpretations. For instance, I see “Our Family’s Summers” as a kind of organic math problem, whereas “Water Series-Splash” produces layers to fixate on. The saturated canvases engage all the senses, exaggerating colors found in nature. “It’s a gesture akin to dance. I’m working from the body more than from my head,” Booth said.
Booth refers to her artistic practice as “journalistic,” which explains much about what her paintings depict. Although the titles are almost as opaque as the paint itself, naming the paintings with such words as “Swells,” “Phenomena,” and “Surface” provides an opportunity to reimagine how natural occurrences might appear to other people.
In both artists’ exhibitions, we are asked to contemplate what nature means to us. In our daily hustles, we may not give it much thought, but these artists have found a way to illuminate just how powerful nature can be.
“Annie Herrero: From the Ground, Up” and “Jane Booth: Earth Water Sky” continue at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., through December 23. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, 816-221-2626 or sherryleedy.com.