Landscape painting is traditionally understood as the subject of pastoral fantasy, an attempt to capture the sublime experience of nature. Recently, it has come to offer a valuable framework for pictorial exploration. This is the impetus for the two-person exhibition of Michael Canning and Mette Homar at REITER Leipzig. States of Being brings together the work of two artists whose aesthetic intentions fundamentally differ, but who have both found fertile ground in the rich tradition of landscape painting.
Michael Canning has developed an idiosyncratic visual language driven by a commitment to his pictorial research. Interestingly, Canning was originally trained as a sculptor before turning his attention to painting. His distinct juxtaposition of planes, particularly between foreground and background, is certainly the result of an approach to image-making motivated by spatial concerns. The plants and flowers he depicts are varieties found during walks in County Limerick where the Irish artist resides. Canning holds up the flowers, rotating them between his fingers so they are always showing their most attractive side as he paints their every appendage.
Canning’s work is frequently considered as records of botany. In fact, the artist has little interest in the specimens he paints. He pursues a visual dynamism that can only be achieved by the combination of colours, shapes and planes. His subjects are thus simple tools in his relentless quest towards compositional vitality. One might even say that Canning’s work is musical, not only because of the rhythmic juxtaposition of words used for his evocative titles, but also because of quiet dynamism of his botanical figures, which all appear to be captured amidst a gleeful dance.
As for her, Mette Homar admits to being a ‘landscape junky.’ Long walks in Jutland, Denmark are an integral part of her artistic practice. While in nature, Homar takes photographs that are used as preliminary material for her large oil pastels on paper. The format of most of the pieces made for this show allow the view to become absorbed by her multicoloured geometric compositions.
In many ways, Homar’s work recall that of the post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, particularly his series of Mont-Sainte-Victoire. Thick patches of colour fracture the composition, thereby creating a push and pull effect that attains an overall visual dynamism that never settles. The eye is left wandering over the surface endlessly, unable to ever fully grasp the whole picture. This is the result of the artist’s slow and time-consuming artistic process. She completes her paintings in stages, imbuing each of them with a distinct energy and vigour. It is precisely this singular methodology that inspired the title for the exhibition. Homar’s paintings are the amalgamation of her various creative impulses and élans, brought together to coexist on a single plane within a defined landscape arrangement.
The contrasting aesthetics of Canning and Homar are resolutely different in their ambitions. However, both artists rely on their intuition as an integral part of their practice. Ultimately, they both seek to design a visual experience that does not retain the essence of the landscape depicted per se, but rather captures their own fundamental artistic drive. Certainly, by viewing their work in the same space, the dense compositions of Canning’s small but pristine surfaces will complement the physical encounter of Homar’s large textured formats. Together, they assert the continued vitality of landscape painting as a subject type.
Anaïs Castro, 2023