It’s a common mistake in the digital age: one opens a browser and takes a look at the month’s gallery offerings, trusting that what looks good on a wall will reveal itself in a thumbnail. Take, for example, Chris Hayman’s Beyond Nature, her new show at Julie Nester Gallery in Park City. Her art apparently falls near the absolute, non-representational end of abstraction, its non-objective credentials reinforced by her complete reliance on palette knives rather than brushes. Each thumbnail suggests something somewhere between late, analytical Cubism and the energetic side of Joan Mitchell: an exploding floral arrangement may come to mind.
Ah, but enter the gallery and everything changes. First of all, the paintings are large, around twenty-five square feet apiece. In person, their bright colors are seen to be scattered across luminous, largely white spaces. Doug and Julie Nester know what they’re doing, and they’ve hung them high, which contributes to their feeling of outdoor light. That, and the overall arrangement of tonality provides a hint, an intuition that gradually becomes a suspicion, and finally a certainty that behind the here, spiky, and there, sinuous impasto lie mountains and skies. One painting, “Windswept,” perhaps due to its landscape format, becomes the centerpiece of an entirely new look at nature.
We know that representational paintings change with viewing distance: what is clearly seen from afar often breaks down up close, into a collection of painterly gestures. Here, Hayman has taken it a step further, so what feels like a distant landscape becomes entirely abstract gesture when approached. This level of ambivalence means that viewers’ minds can respond to their eyes, literally willing themselves to see one or the other pictorial system, each brilliantly executed and waiting to endlessly delight the eye, the mind, both.
To think: if I’d been able to find a place to put my car anywhere else, in February, in the oxymoronically named “Park” City, I might never have found these energetic, colorful, and eye-massaging artworks. Fortunately, Nester Gallery, which forms a triangle with the historic cemetery and the Bone Yard, is the one place in town where parking is always possible.
Chris Hayman: Beyond Nature, Julie Nester Gallery, Park City, through Feb. 23.