Nocturnal views are for painters of specialty. They speak with different vocabulary. For some, the limited tonality and values reduce aerial perspective of traditional landscape into designs of forms; for others, the changes in colors through subtle various light sources liberate their pallete to achieve their visions as colorists.
Sarah Williams’ Night Fall series, currently exhibited at Marty Walker Galley (till the end of this week), belong to neither case. The darkness does not break down the spacial relationship; instead, based on various photos she took in rural Missouri, the perspective is exemplified through curvilinear features of snow tracks, road curbs or long shadows. The primary light source is strong, mysterious yet eerie; the color spectrum often reaches to the extreme ends within one picture: Ice dipped in the warm orange light from the high beam; the plastic curtain suffused with electric green light from the car wash.
When I discussed with her about her chosen subject—Dark midwest suburban of no particular vista, Sarah said it was beautiful and romantic in her own opinion. There is no human presence, but apparently the surroundings are humanized. The limited visibility forces viewers to examine the common objects – parking lots, trash bins, or warehouses – with a renewed keenness. The dark, which shrouds most upper part of the canvas, compresses the mundanity of middle ground with extra gravity. I am hooked, why?
Marty Walker, the owner of the gallery, said the orchestration of different light sources and in particular the second or even the third one that renders objects with different shades and hues, is what compels viewers to behold these image long.” There are marvelous details, if you look close.”
In one picture, three cars left pairs of snow tracks in the near ground, all curving into different directions. None, however, seems to go toward the direction of the bare-walled car wash, illuminated in lemon yellow and tortoise green at night, almost out of the world. A farm house is at the far ground, modestly lit in blue. It does not take one long to realize that the vantage point is from a SUV where the painter should be sitting. And that ochre hue on the snow is from her own vehicle. Haven’t we all been there? When the darkness falls, the familiarity recedes into the unknown; few scattered objects that sparkle to get our attention, transform under a different light. We are left to wonder whether the magic of night lies in its ability to disguise the grotesque or to reveal the true beauty.
At one wall, different wintry night paintings of the same size put together grid-wise like a variation of elegy. They reminded me of my own night traveling to some unfamiliar places. The images of those places have blurred; yet the excitement of spotting human light under the black canopy and of breathing chilled air reside. In this way, Sarah Williams have captured not only beautiful images of night, but our perception of it. Through them, we see our own reflection on physical isolation and mental solitude.