Gifford, A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove)
I’m often drawn toward this painting. For me, it brings back beautiful memories of my childhood in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. As an adolescent, coming to terms with myself, and could find some spiritual solace in this kind of scenery. It’s a very simple composition of light, essentially, in the Catskill Mountains. The artist, Sanford Gifford, daringly creates an enormous void and what he does so brilliantly is to fill the void with this extraordinary light that permeates throughout this void or gorge, as it was called at the time. Using very small, infinitesimal brushstrokes and eliminates his presence, in essence, so that you’re not thinking about him, you’re thinking about this scene in front of you. There are certain details that you eventually start to see. Buried in the lower left ledge, there’s a hunter with his dog, and it creates this kind of tension because he hasn’t seen this glorious, radiant view, but he’s going to attain it ‘cause he’s about to reach the top of the ledge. He painted this during his three different stints in the Union Army, a period where people were worried that the country would break apart. He’s creating a unified view, an orderly unified view of nature. As a new nation, Americans came to see their vast landscape as the most distinguishing quality. It was symbolic of the potential we had. It’s not surprising that landscape art became the national school. And I think that all Americans continue to carry that belief system forward. We connect to it in a very spiritual way. Now that I’m in New York City, I can re-engage with that memory of my childhood by staring at this painting.