by David M. Roth
Minnesota artist Gregory Euclide is best known for elaborate, multi-tiered dioramas that probe mankind’s uneasy relationship with nature. Preservation Paradox, his current exhibition, affords glimpses into the thinking behind that line of inquiry, seen previously and most prominently in installations at MASS MoCA, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and the Nevada Museum of Art. This show consists primarily of small-scale (28 x 19-inch) Asia-tinged landscape paintings on paper in which found and fabricated objects are embedded in or set against moody washes and expanses of scraped paint. The results are low-relief works whose 3-D elements – artificial greenery, snippets of cut paper and styrofoam “clouds” – point less to romantic notions of the sublime than to uncomfortable truths.
What makes these efforts noteworthy is the way Euclide frames the man vs. nature dilemma. Geoff Manaugh in an essay for The Altered Landscape, a 2011 exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art, asked a question that, to my mind, crystallizes a key issue facing artists operating in this domain: If you’re making a field recording in a forest and an airplane flies overhead, do you turn off your microphone or do you leave it on? Euclide has clearly gone with the latter option. Scenes of natural splendor abut artifacts of industry as if the two were made for each other. In Yard, locomotives tunnel through a hanging forest, while in Bridge, a seemingly pristine river empties into an ominous sinkhole. In purely abstract works, scraped paint flows downward like melting ice cream, suspending scallop-shaped bits of paper set perpendicularly against the picture plane, calling to mind, in miniature, fungus growing from rotting logs.
While painting and illustration are integral to Euclide’s practice, dioramas are clearly his forte, and in this show there’s a great one built around a taxidermied fox. It’s the exhibition’s title piece. Out of its hollowed-out body sprouts an artificial forest, along with a stream of turquoise paint that gushes, fountain-like, down the side of the pedestal. The base of it is littered with artificial moss and cigarette butts, the latter purposefully set upright, not crushed.
Euclide appears to regard the “built” environment (and all that comes with it) as natural and unavoidable facts of life, as valid and as worthy of our reverence as trees, rivers and mountains. Never mind that that man is the only animal on Earth that fouls its own nest, and does so knowingly.
What that knowledge in this artist’s hands signifies is uncertain. Acceptance? Acquiescence? Oblivion? Resistance? Euclide leaves it up to viewers to decide.
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Gregory Euclide: “Preservation Paradox” @ Hashimoto Contemporary through September 29, 2018.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.