Artforum: Paul Wackers

Glen Helfand, Artforum, November 1, 2006

The environmental fallout of the tension between nature and culture is fittingly a pervasive subject for an emerging generation of artists (think of the International Center of Photography’s “Ecotopia”); it’s certainly a theme that’s difficult to ignore. In his solo show at this new Mission District gallery, Paul Wackers addresses the topic with a series of faux-naive paintings that mysteriously contrast flat landscapes with architectural icons, real and invented. An acrylic on panel called Theories of Time (all works 2006) features a colorcharged image of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, here set against a flame-orange sky. The building sits atop a rocky river landscape composed of ropy, veinlike strands of color reminiscent of Chris Johanson’s supernovas. (In another work, Blood from a Stone, he shows similarly corporeal bundles of color and line, this time punctured and spurting into a flat pool of red.) Cache, rendered in acrylic on linen, is a view of what seems like the Pentagon, but transformed into an angular reservoir. Nurtured Earth shows a different sort of imagined landscape, a fenced-in, tended plot of land with a mini-golf-course-scale artificial mountain set in the center of a lawn of concentric rings of brown and green, with a small trough extending to a nearby tree. These paintings present an interesting, if not completely resolved, mixture of artful ambivalence, knee-jerk environmentalism, and the tropes of Wackers’s young, eco-oriented peers (Johanson, Keegan McHargue, Jules de Balincourt, Chris Ballantyne, and Leslie Shows). It’s a tenuous brew that, in these works, is potent more often than inert.