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The Land Inside 

Gregory Euclide blends art and science to reinvigorate landscape painting

Wednesday, Aug 31 2005
Receiver Gallery is a small, unexpected space in the Inner Sunset that is also home to Receiver Studio, a print and interactive design company. While the commingling of art and design is nothing new, it's rare to find them cohabiting quite so intimately. In Receiver's case, the walls of the gallery and design studio are one and the same, making it a particularly appropriate place to view the work of painter Gregory Euclide, whose lovely landscapes blend fine art tradition with graphic design style and a respect for scientific order.

Euclide's paintings on paper build from a tradition of landscape painting that is lyrical and a bit romantic; the images are atmospheric, delicate, and often wistful. Rendered in naturalistic shades of green, rust, gray, and the soft black of sumi ink, the pastoral scenes of hill, dell, and lake country are masterfully executed with fluid lines and painterly flourishes. But where traditional landscape painting ends, Euclide's work begins to get interesting. Skylines burst off the horizontal axis into exuberant scrolls and scribbles that resemble calligraphy or lines of graffiti tags. Detailed drawings of riverbanks and shrubs dissolve into masses of abstract lines and drips of paint. Throughout, cryptic letters, numbers, and a quirky use of office supplies disrupt the illusion, suggesting a highly subjective vision -- landscape on an acid trip. Euclide's near-psychedelic imagery reminds us that nature is more than a pretty view: It can be charged with emotional resonance, broken down into underlying patterns, and dissected through scientific inquiry.

In Transit Station Winter, Euclide uses the act of painting as a parallel to a natural process: a snowstorm. Composed simply of a strip of pale, faintly outlined buildings and a single, exquisitely rendered bird, the scene is completely blanketed in broad strokes of white paint. Rather than merely describing a storm, the paint becomes snow, muting the image like a blizzard, and dripping down its surface like melting ice. Although the particulars of the scene are all but erased, this erasure captures the quiet loneliness of a winter landscape far more viscerally than a more detailed illustration.

In other works, abstraction takes the form of graphic patterns. How the Island Became the Mainland is held together by a series of looping lines that crisscross the painting's surface, intersecting and encircling smaller drawings of grassy hillocks, trees, and ponds. The loops form almost perfect circles, which are echoed in the sky by a smattering of floating doughnut-shaped rings. Whether intended to represent airborne spores or perhaps sunspots, the rings look just like the stickers used to reinforce the holes on the pages of three-ring binders. In fact, some of them are hole reinforcements. Perfectly round, these humble office supplies at first seem out of place in the midst of nature's bounty. They remind us instead of the standardization of cubicle life, an artificial ecosystem. But to Euclide, they are a means of uncovering an underlying graphic system. Any attempt to read this painting as a coherent, three-dimensional space is thwarted by the energy in this pattern of dots and circles.

The overall effect is bubbly and animated in both form and feeling. But while the pattern's energy can be interpreted as an expression of nature's exuberance, the style in which the painting's other elements are executed unfortunately falls flat. The ridges of the riverbank appear just a little too enthusiastic, and some of the foliage looks as if it is about to burst into song. Verging on the Disney-esque, it's a style that adds another level of pop culture intrigue, but ultimately tilts toward the cartoonish. In this case, Euclide's attempt to create a unifying graphic pattern has overwhelmed the image. The painting seems pat, the energy too contained. In comparison to the subtle, enigmatic beauty of some of the other works in the exhibit, the swirls and swoops of How the Island feel a bit contrived.

Abstraction finds greater success in Patterned Migration -- System Blooms. Barely recognizable as a landscape, its horizon bends and snaps in a wild S-curve, coalescing several different moments or perspectives. Here, the energy is open-ended rather than controlled. Lines snake out from the center: Some become a curving road, others suggest foliage, and still others look like paths of flight or wind-blown debris. Pale skeletons of buildings emerge in the distance, expelled from the swirling vortex. It's literally as if the landscape were creating itself before our eyes.

Behind the impetus to find or create patterns in nature is Euclide's fascination with science and systems. Upside-down Picnic-bench Sunset displays perhaps the tightest integration of nature, design, and science. The circular hole reinforcements reappear, along with strips of ruby lith (a red, translucent plastic used in graphic printing processes). Together, they form the basis of what looks like a distant cityscape. In the foreground are some inky indications of tiny plant life, but the rest of the image is engulfed in calligraphic squiggles and swirls that dance, completely unmoored from the responsibilities of representation. Embedded in the cacophony of shape and line is the symbol "H20," the chemical representation for water, the basis of life.

In this image, it's impossible to separate our perception of the natural world from the conventions of design and science. The calligraphic squiggles are not only a lovely graphic motif -- they suggest curling vines or the path of a darting insect's flight -- but they also evoke water, which is represented not by an illustration of a lake or stream, but by a simple scientific formula. In combining these different approaches to comprehending natural phenomena, Euclide suggests that our perceptions are not confined to a single language, but are combinations of all the ways in which we process and understand the world.

Even more important than Euclide's genre-defying style is his commitment to and appreciation of the natural world. His fresh approach to representing the landscape not as an idyll frozen in time, but as a dynamic, ever-changing force, is a trenchant reminder that the world is, above all else, alive.

About The Author

Sharon Mizota


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