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Escaping into the Vita Contemplativa: Tranquility at Julie Nester Gallery

“Becoming Whole” by A.J. Oishi. Acrylic on canvas. 60″ x 72″

Notifications pinging and screens flashing: the average person’s day is filled with hundreds of stimuli demanding attention. In The Human Condition, philosopher Hannah Arendt writes that the point at which the world passed into modernity is when people stopped striving for the vita contemplativa (a life of contemplation) and began idolizing the vita activa (a life of action). Constant doing and accomplishing leaves little time to sit and relax. However, one location where quiet thinking and gazing hasn’t gone out of style is the art gallery. The exhibit Tranquility, featuring artists A.J. Oishi and Thea Schrack at Julie Nester Gallery, takes the calm atmosphere of the gallery one step further by providing meditative works and a gentle respite from the anxious activity and background noise of modern life.

The ancient, slow processes of nature contrast to the fast pace of the technology-saturated present.Tranquility features pieces that are reminiscent of flowing, bubbling, or gently sweeping tides. Oishi’s paintings are composed of raised acrylic dots radiating out from their centers in large rings of subtly shifting colors, all ending in black at the edges of the canvases. The undulating rings of dots look like satellite images of rotating galaxies or even petri dishes of microbes viewed through a microscope. Schrack’s pieces are wavy bands of horizontal color, like mist drifting over lakes or rays of sun shining over distant horizons. Each of the artists use two different fluid movements—circular and horizontal—to create calm compositions.

“Simplistic Layers 2″ by A. J. Oishi. Acrylic on canvas. 40″ x 43”

The pieces not only depict tranquil subjects, but imagining the repetitive creative processes Oishi and Schrack used to make their art is a calming experience. Oishi’s large canvases—the biggest of which is “Becoming Whole” at 60” x 72” —would have required long, calm hours to complete. Each dot would have needed to be applied with care and precision. As you pass your eyes over the subtle color transition radiating outward and slightly bubbling surface of hundreds upon hundreds of dots in “Simplistic Layers 2,” you imagine the countless hours spent applying the consistent marks of paint. Thinking about the patience required to make “Delight at Midnight,” for example, may not magically imbue the viewer with the same virtue, but contemplating the mechanics detaches a person from the endless to-do lists and frantic pace of the normal world.

Schrack’s process is calming in its mystery. The way Schrack creates the horizontal bands of blurred color, like “SeaGlass 2,” which looks like a gentle landscape seen through a frosted window, is not immediately obvious. Unlike the exact effort a viewer can imagine Oishi’s pieces requiring, Schrack’s archival pigment prints look like they could have washed up with the tide, having been weathered naturally and without human wiles. Gazing at the bands of color in “SeaGlass 5,” a viewer can relax in the soft undulations and muted color palette and drift through their own world of thoughts.

Taking refuge in the Park City gallery, surrounded by long stretches of wilderness, and viewing the tranquil works of these two artists is a perfect way to escape from the hustle and bustle of a busy existence. The intersection of the quiet world of art and nature in the Julie Nester Gallery provides a space to center oneself and look at art without distractions.

“SeaGlass 2″ by Thea Schrack. Archival pigment print, 20″ x 20″, 30″ x 30″ and 40″ x 40”

 

“Tranquility: A.J. Oishi & Thea Schrack,” Julie Nester Gallery, Park City, through June 27, julienestergallery.com

 

 

 

Hannah McBeth studied art history, classics, and Mediterranean archaeology before getting a Master’s at Cambridge University. She enjoys writing, hiking, and traveling to far-off places.

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