The Galisteo River Basin Paintings
Anne Appleby: The Galisteo River Basin Paintings
Santafe.com | THE magazine, July 13, 2015
by Diane Armitage
“Most of the color-based painters Panza favors can be seen as mystics or materialists, or some a combination of both. Anne Appleby’s practice is different…. Her painting is based on perceptions of the world outside her own consciousness... Explaining the rootedness at the core of her work, she said, ‘My paintings aren’t about the other world. They’re about our place in this world….’ “
—David Bonetti, “Color and Light: A Sense of Joy,” essay from the book The Panza Collection: An Experience of Color and Light
David Bonetti’s essay traces an arc of meaning behind the legendary collection of artwork belonging to the late Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. Three years before Panza passed away in 2010, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in collaboration with Panza, presented an exhibition of work that showcased the Count’s aesthetic—a collection of pieces from some of the leading artists of our time, most of them American—artists such as Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Robert Irwin, Anne Truitt, Winston Roeth, Stuart Arends, Max Cole, and Anne Appleby. What united this collection was an emphasis on monochromatic art whose intense focus was a product of a reductivist approach to artmaking. Panza was often thought of as a visionary collector whose curiosity about the art of our time provided him with insights into specific ways of seeing that illuminated his personal sense of aesthetics. When there was only color to meditate on, as in the paintings of Appleby, Panza saw direct links to an artist’s ideas about what it meant to be directly engaged with nature and fleeting impressions of light within natural systems.
If Appleby is often thought of as a classic minimalist, I feel this straight line of thinking should be bent—bent and looped back to nineteenth-century Impressionism. I tend to think of Appleby as a twenty-first century Impressionist, of a highly distilled variety. The Impressionists focused their attention on a world tempered by a calculus of light whose outcomes were never twice the same. They were artists who were inspired by changing qualities of diurnal luminosity as a perceptual by-product of different times of day tethered to a shifting tapestry of seasonal cycles. Appleby takes Impressionism to its next logical level and does away with literal signifiers harnessing the light, like a garden of flowers, boats on the water, haystacks, or lilies in a pond. But it isn’t that Appleby’s monochromatic works are any less tangible in the world of sense perception. For proof of this, we need only look at the titles of her paintings: Winter Chamisa, Scrub Oak, Scarlet Penstemon, Spring Aspen, Taos Vetch. All of Appleby’s recent work is based on her time spent living in Santa Fe, walking along the Galisteo River Basin, and observing with a practiced eye the various gradations of pastel hues in a desert environment known for its subtle presentation of trees, plants, and flowers.
It’s not that the desert doesn’t have its vivid moments—cottonwood trees in the fall are one example, along with summer fields dotted with penstemon flowers, scarlet globemallow, Indian paintbrush, and purple asters. Appleby has taken notice of these, but the more delicate shadings of the Southwestern landscape seem to have captured her imagination the most. Walking into the gallery during the artist’s show and taking a quick look around gave local viewers the impression that they had stepped into an ecosystem that they knew very well, yet were also seeing for the first time.
When an artist embraces a minimalist approach in her art practice and yet the work produced succeeds in retaining a great sensuality and a wrap-around presence that exudes strong memories of the realities on which the work is based, that kind of success is at the heart of Impressionist painting— no matter how detached from the real world the paintings might appear as they hang on the wall. Although Appleby’s work is composed of abstract panels, painted with oil and wax using a single color, that single color is an illusion. There is so much more to one of Appleby’s panels than initially meets the eye because deep within a “single color” comes a soft welling up from below of other hues. No spray of leaves on any aspen tree is in fact monochromatic—nature isn’t that cut and dried with its colors—quiet variations in the key of green infinitely abound. As Robert Frost wrote in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Nature’s first green is gold / Her hardest hue to hold…
Appleby’s art comes from the eye and the mind of an observer steeped in patience, experience, and a profound love of the natural world. The artist was quoted once as saying, “As I work I develop an inner dialogue about the meaning of what I’m doing. But I can’t paint that. I can’t even speak it. It’s denser than my activity.” The paintings of Appleby give the inchoate density of first impressions an altogether luminous and weightless afterlife.