Eva Struble's Paintings Reveal Brooklyn Wilderness Taking Over

07/20/2011 4:00 AM |

Unlike their Old World counterparts—which have risen from the foundations of former empires built upon previous civilizations and so on—American cities still rest somewhat unstably atop a wilderness forever poised to take back control. It's this invasive, corrosive nature, which cracks concrete and envelops buildings, that Brooklyn-based artist Eva Struble portrays in her striking Fauvist-toned urban ruin paintings.

But that process of ruinification also informs her process, which involves a complex method of applying and cutting away layers of oil paints for an effect that often resembles collage and mimics the similarly volatile relationship between man-made structures and nature, between the figuration of architecture and the abstraction of boundless wilderness, that is her subject. Struble's new exhibition at Lombard Freid Projects, Landsmen (through July 29), portrays these transformations as they're unfolding at former military bases in Brooklyn and the Bay Area.

The ten canvases on view here deploy a dazzling palette of neons and push these disintegrating structures towards surrealism and abstraction. In "Navy Yard" (2011), one of the Brooklyn Navy Yard's dry docks sits empty, its sides glowing a spectacular sunset red under a small splotch of green sky. At the bottom of the dock, an unseen crane is reflected in stagnant waters, an apparent mirage or magical glimpse of the long-crumbled steel tower. The space seems otherwordly, yet the sight of water and ominous skies hint at the landscape beyond. It's Giorgio de Chirico on acid meets post-apocalyptic Le Douanier Rousseau by way of Andrew Moore's monumental, melancholy photographs—encounters between cities and resilient environments as painted by Deborah Brown and William Swanson also come to mind.

A dark concrete expanse occupies the center of "Nike Site 88L" (2011), a former missile defense launch site at the shuttered Fort Barry military base just north of San Francisco, where Struble recently had a residency. The broad black oval forms a void at the composition's center that's surrounded by purple and navy blue outcroppings under a pink sky streaked with orange and black, like a milkshake of strawberry and tiger tail ice cream, drawing viewers' eyes to the painting's edges from where nature appears eager to invade.

However, several pieces reverse this peripheral composition. In "Admiral's Row 2" (2011), the sun seems to shine from within a crumbling officer's home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, its walls a pale yellow and windows bright red. The surrounding foliage ranges from green to turquoise, with flashes of purple and burgundy cut into intricate lines that evoke decorative art nouveau patterns and the Gothic, drooping forms of Spanish moss. The overlapping paint layers sliced into precise plant forms creates an illustration-like sense of depth and superimposition that reminds of classic cartoon animation cells. Except in the case of Struble's paintings, it's the setting that's animated, and the man-made forms at their center that are being climbed upon and broken down.

(Images courtesy the artist, Lombard Freid Projects)