The profusion of works and materials in Alice Shaw’s Landscape Update at Gallery 16 leaves viewers with the impression of a frenzy. The twenty-six works on view are made from an exhaustive array of media: paintings of oil and dye on linen; sculptures of cast bronze and concrete; photographs, including pigment, Van Dyke brown, and gelatin silver prints; and drawings or hybrid works of charcoal, ink, and gold leaf. Though the artist’s goal of exploring the landscape through various methods and materials is admirable, the effect is less comprehensive than it is schizophrenic. There are moments when Shaw’s depictions of a natural world sullied by human presence do shine, but overall the exhibition could have been improved by the notion that less is more.
Despite the show being weakened by the surfeit of approaches, there are many works that are intriguing and funny. Gum Print (2012) is a close-up, black-and-white photograph of a tree trunk that nearly blocks the view of the wild valley and pine-studded ridge beyond. The proximity of the trunk provides rich details of the rugged bark, showing bits of moss and an old bent nail stuck amongst its crevices; the image is so crisply captured that a viewer can almost feel the rough textures. However, the print is contaminated by a wad of actual chewing gum stuck nonchalantly to the center of the trunk: a rose-pink blot of detritus that undercuts the serenity of the scene. The wad is in a rounded, larval shape that could be an organic part of this natural scene if it weren’t for its man-made color. From an oblique angle, a viewer can see threads of sticky pink residue that stretch from the print to the inner surface of the framing glass—the same way that trodden gum stretches from the urban pavement to one’s shoe. For Shaw, no pristine vista will remain untouched by human carelessness.