Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Ron Linn’s Grids Fail to Constrain the Wild Land

Ron Linn, “sign iii,” oil on canvas (photo by Jesslyn Low)

Plain white canvas frames a small rectangle of paint at its center. The painted portion features a viewpoint that looks out over a landscape of red and white rock. A bronze-looking plaque centers itself at the forefront of the work. The viewer is placed as if looking at the plaque, which would undoubtedly contain information about the rock formations that can be seen below. While landscapes are expansive and often seen as unruly, Ron Linn intentionally leaves much of the space offered to him on the canvas blank. Instead, he contains his landscapes in small, perfectly-shaped squares and rectangles.

Linn’s work, which is currently displayed at Finch Lane Gallery, explores the myths of the western landscape, particularly as it pertains to Utah — discussing historic views of this land as both Edenic and unruly Wilderness that was mastered through the gridded layout of Utah city streets. He grapples with the desire to immerse himself in the myth of holy emptiness in nature while simultaneously wanting to see the systems that brought order to this same land.

The grid pattern appears often in Linn’s work. “Sidewinders (entropy)” features a large canvas with a grid that stretches almost across the canvas, leaving a small space of empty canvas at the edges. At the center of the canvas is a small painting of Horseshoe Bend, near Page, done in light grayish-blue tones. The top of the canvas has come off of the wood frame, rocks that have been placed in the folds of the canvas weigh the material down causing folds in the large grid. Nature disrupts the continuous lines of the grid that strive to keep it contained and reminds the viewer of both the human desire for order as well the expansive and uncapturable nature of the landscape.

Ron Linn, “sidewinders (entropy),” oil and colored graphite on canvas, stone (photo by Jesslyn Low)

The empty spaces left on Linn’s canvases are just as intriguing as the areas that are painted. Perhaps these blank spaces represent the way humans often view the wilderness as empty until people inhabit an area; or could Linn be reflecting on how humans strive to bring order to nature by containing his landscapes in these small squares and rectangles? Or perhaps these empty spaces represent something else altogether; regardless Ron Linn has found a way to provoke thought and add dimension to his works through utilizing the emptiness of a blank canvas.

The grid and empty spaces of Linn’s works are common themes throughout this show. Many of the canvases that utilize blank spaces also feature multiple small squares of painted imagery. In “to weave a landscape (evening light)” two rectangles are centered horizontally on an open canvas. The two paintings feature the same plateau. The bottom image is done in bright colors with a deep blue cloudless sky and rich red and white strips of rock traveling across the jutting rock formation. The top image is darker, almost as if the viewer is seeing the plateau through night vision and a yellowish grid is painted over the entirety of the scene. Although the two paintings feature the same landscape they stand in stark contrast with one another. Perhaps these two scenes portray the grid’s inability to hold a landscape as the grid leaves but the landscape continues to thrive in the second image.

Ron Linn, “to weave a landscape (evening light),” oil on canvas (photo by Jesslyn Low)

Ron Linn’s gridding the west presents an intriguing view of the western landscape that highlights the expansive nature of the land around us and the futility of trying to capture or contain it. The works counter classic myths and contradictions that have prescribed the land of Utah as both God’s own country and unforgiving wilderness. Through grids that reflect the streets of Utah and empty spaces on canvas, these works offer a unique and pensive view of the landscape.

Ron Linn: gridding the west, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Apr. 22


1 reply »

  1. Some things never change. On my computer, Google keeps a map of the places I’ve been, each represented by a thumbnail from my Photo Ap. The result looks surprising like one of Ron Linn’s art works: an image of something human-made or human-celebrated in an otherwise empty expanse that might almost be labeled “Here be dragons.” I begin to fear out digital masters may not save us. Or even want to.

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