Noah Landfield's Ephemeral Cities
New YorkFindlay Gallery
Billowing, flowing, and crumbling, the recent paintings of Noah Landfield, in Ephemeral Cities, chart vectors of movement, force, and energy as they play out in both natural and human-made manifestations. While the images depict what one would call the cycles of nature—decay and upheaval, the paintings consciously avoid notions of pattern and repetition, instead using chaos and difference as the means of creating form. If anything, Landfield offers a personal account of geologic time, with the excessive drama and spontaneity of a comic book explosion: while the subject is heavy, the execution is light. Inside the Phoenix Cloud (2021) tightly frames the towering cloud of what seems a technicolor eruption, with highlights in oranges and lemon and shadows in vermilions and grays. The darker swathes of color act as windows to the background and we see the outlines of a city. In Noah Landfield’s paintings, violence is very peripheral to the action of the painting: are we looking at an apocalyptic explosion, or simply viewing urban sprawl from above, through the clouds?
Landfield has a stable of inspirations which he returns to regularly: volcanic eruptions, aerial views of urban sprawl, and ancient brick walls slowly disintegrating. These sources provide ample varieties of movement, which is the artist’s true subject. The forms can all be rendered similarly: heavy outlines filled in with bright, intense, and sometimes garish color, but the painter then instigates moments of clarity, in which the viewer can easily discern between clouds of smoke, bricks, and gridded facades of modernist architecture, and moments of inscrutability, where these forms meld into each other. Diffused Space (2020-21) is a morose and lyrical cloud study, the majority of the canvas being devoted to banks of pinky-gray cumulus clouds. The stippled shading of the clouds begins to coalesce into the regular facades of high-rise architecture, sometimes morphing into deeper rusts and reds, but in the left hand lower quadrant it becomes inflected with an electric yellow—like a bolt of lightning seen in the pocket of a cloud, the painter has seamlessly inserted the city into his clousdscape.
The artist moves in two distinct formal paths, and these are delineated neatly in the two rooms of the gallery. He approaches the action on canvas either as an event taking place on a background which either heightens or cools the energy of the imagery, or he engages with a much more riotous use of color. The former series at times utilize dark blues to generate a sense of twilit tension, as in Suspended Gravity (2021), or pinks or yellows to cleverly suppress the frenetic energy of the form, as in the gorgeous Turner-esque Excavated Light (2021). The painter’s eye is a distant, but not necessarily cold, one. He views these bursts of destructive energy within a context of both constants and arbitrary change: the pace of “Suspended Gravity,” which depicts the twinkling lights of an urban center, is a different kind of chaotic at night as in the daytime. The same holds true for the quiet washed out yellows and ochres of “Excavated Light,” a seeming cataclysmic explosion, playing out silently with a strangely calming intense brightness. Alternatively, the other path Landfield’s paintings follow is of fever-dream and hallucination. The emanating clouds of volcanic ash and smoke flicker from one color to another and the various textures at the painter’s beck and call alternate in a shimmering polychrome mosaic. The comic book palette is retained but is refracted in on itself until all sense of figure versus ground is lost. A series of five mid-size paintings on the last wall of the gallery: Searching (2019), Hallucination (2021), Ephemeral World (Floating World – For Nagisa) (2021), Night Radiance (2018), Koyaanisqatsi (2021), boldly push Landfield’s vision of energy infused landscape into the realm of Ensor-like cacophony. They are not easy works to digest, but it is exciting to see an artist experimenting with color, and watch the experiment work and challenge the eye simultaneously.