Connie Borup’s decision to foreground water in her current work is timely, given the combination of threats coming from drought, the draining of the aquifers, the unequal division of a dwindling supply, and the ongoing fight over rights to it, all contributing to unprecedented water insecurity. But it’s also the perfect subject for her aesthetic concerns. Any of the 18 oil paintings currently on exhibit at Phillips Gallery could make this point, but consider “Looking Deeper,” an appropriate title if one ever was. In classic landscape fashion, it’s divided into three horizontal bands. At the top, a distant grass and leaf strewn bank overhangs the water’s edge. Somewhat closer, largely hidden between the sky’s glare and dark, shadow patches, a transition occurs from reflections that renders the water’s surface opaque to a transparency that opens it up. It’s in the lower, nearer part that the depths emerge. Looking down, viewers see here the muddy, rocky bottom. Of course, the advice to look deeper transcends this glimpse into relatively shallow water. Rather, what Borup’s image urges on her audience is taking in the whole scene, all of nature’s optical and natural magic, and viewing it all more deeply.
This is apparent in the way her carefully contemplated subjects call for similarly close observation by the viewer. Such up-close examination will show that Borup is not a conventional realistic painter — not, at least, in the manner of botanical studies or, for that matter, much Baroque academic art. Yet proof is on hand at Phillips, where one of her painted photographs of Great Salt Lake is included. Even a glance at it will reveal a level of detail she can, but rarely does apply to her plants, which are rounder, more pliant and generalized. Her focus is, simply, softer, which enables her to blend an entire scene into a single optical experience, one in which the water is more active and lively than the living plants, which are comparatively sculptural. She doesn’t reverse their proper traits, but reduces the contrast between them. It’s not Impressionism, of course, but overall, it’s her achievement to produce the visual equivalent of the soft sounds stringed instruments lend to music while, at the same time, maintaining complete control of the space, the light, and the various feelings she wants the location to convey. For instance, she achieves the optical comfort of chalk or charcoal, but without surrendering the luminous daylight oils are capable of producing.
It would be wrong to leave the impression that Borup has only one technique that she uses over and over. In fact, her art is anchored in long and intensely close looking at nature, so that each of these works constitutes a single facet of her total vision. In “Dark Water,” the contrast between the almost black center and the brilliant green of the sun-struck ring of leaves that frames it gives the whole the presence, the sense of a real place. That sense characterizes the result in work after work, each of which goes for a different combination and its own character. Two adjacent, utterly different canvases tell her story: the masterful “Where I Stopped to Look” is followed by the black and white “Pulled In,” the two essentially offering a confession: the artist admitting she couldn’t stop herself.
Somethings Borup clearly watches for are the patterns that natural phenomena can’t avoid producing. Waves in water are one, as seen in “Good Vibrations” and the punningly titled “Blue By You.” Close in appearance to those, but actually quite differently produced are the distorted reflections produced by the meniscuses where sticks break through the water’s surface, as in “Floating Leaves” and “Where I Stopped to Look.” These patterns take many forms in water, but they occur as well in plants, though instead of the dance of water frozen by the brush, they hold poses shaped by gravity, sunlight, wind, and the slow process of growth.
Musical students are fortunate in being able to study not just performances and recordings, but the scores that inspire them. If one hears something, an effect that intrigues her, she can look at what amounts to the text and probably see how it’s done. That way into the process and artistry isn’t available with opaque paints, where many separate choices join in a cumulative and indivisible result. Because Borup brings to her work the same sustained scrutiny that she applies to her subject in nature, though, viewers can see for themselves that what she has accomplished is not only more than the sum of its parts, but a totality, a cerebral and sensual experience realized in surprising, paradoxical, and unexpected ways.
Connie Borup, Phillips Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Nov. 11.
Geoff Wichert objects to the term critic. He would rather be thought of as a advocate on behalf of those he writes about.
Categories: Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts
I have loved Connie Borup’s work for years and years. She is an absolute master. I am constantly amazing at the quality of her work.
Connie Borup is an immensely talented artist. And a wonderful person and friend…
Connie Borup is a master of color and value when describing nature. Each work leaves a viewer with a feeling of peace. She has gone from painting distant views, to very close up observations, having skill in chalk, water color and oil. As a teacher, Connie has so much information to learn from by any artist.
Love your work and you.
Connie’s paintings awaken me to the beauty of the world in a way they reminds me of poetry. They are deeply thoughtful and strikingly images that transform my common and ordinary encounters with nature into moments of recollection and reflection. Thanks Connie for the extreme care and attention you give to provide us with such beautiful and peaceful works.
An overall fine exhibition by Connie Borup as reflected in Geoff Wichert’s descriptive review. I found the two contemplative black and white works in the exhibit fascinating and, because they were so unusual and telling, perhaps best in show overall. Audacious, even! I kept going back to them, at any rate, to gawk and marvel. Such a talent displayed here!