For Your Love
20 Nov – 20 Dec, 2009
Pierogi is pleased to present an exhibition of recent video, sculpture, and drawing by John Stoney. Much of Stoney’s work takes the form of a landscape. Through changes in perspective or focus the meaning of the original subject shifts, layering and sometimes obscuring the collective understanding of, in most cases, a place. Working with the history and visual language of the 19th century romantic tradition of landscape painting, Stoney’s art re-examines historical and contemporary approaches to the question of whether meaning is inherent in nature or imposed by the viewer.
The video and the show are both titled For your love. The vantage point of the video—looking north along the Hudson River from the battery at West Point—is positioned exactly where a 19th century painter would have stood and shows the familiar view of many well known landscape paintings, with the exception of the middle ground where a kettle of vultures circle. This landscape was carved out of the Hudson highlands by the retreating Laurentide ice sheet about 12,000 years ago. It looks now just as it did then, 12,000 years before the military academy and its attendant philosophies existed, and it will be recognizable as the same landscape 12,000 years after the academy has gone. “The video, as with all the work in the show, conflates romantic love and longing with Freud’s Todestrieb or death drive, and the 19th century romantic notions of the sublime and catastrophism with modern scientific understanding of geology and deep time.” (Stoney)
Corner Piece (after Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer’), is a sculptural reproduction of the figure in Friedrich’s painting (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) and here conflates the point of view of the wanderer and the artist. The figure is taken out of the context of the landscape and his gaze appears isolated as the key component. Friedrich maintained that “The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.” Here Stoney traces the connection between the German romantic landscape tradition (in particular, Friedrich’s contribution to it) to the American Hudson River School painters, but he simultaneously removes the figure from the romantic setting thus placing the work within a conceptual framework.
“Often Stoney’s sculptures contain juxtapositions that foreground the relationship between ancient natural phenomena and the modern world, on which mankind has stamped out its place. The Sword and the Stone is a rather playful visualization of this idea. A cast of a petrified log and some surrounding rocks and dirt provides the setting for a tiny cocktail sword, suggesting at once the antiquity of fossils and the ephemerality of contemporary structures of power.” (Chelsea Weathers)
The three landscape drawings are colored pencil enlargements of small, 1.5 x 2.5 inch landscape snapshots from the early to middle 20th century that Stoney has collected for their enigmatic beauty; “a beauty which I attempt to understand by applying to landscape photography John Ruskin’s belief that drawing from life is the only way to have a true understanding of nature.”
The threads connecting all of these works are Stoney’s long-standing love of nature, the beauty of landscape, and his interest in the grand scale of deep geological time and space and our insignificance within it; the insignificance that this artist feels equally in the face of an awe-inducing landscape and a great work of art, and the longing and desire that each produce.