Sanborn's new geometry highlights natural beauty

December 05, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Environmental art, as it has come to be known, involves artists working with nature in a number of ways. They may manipulate the land itself, they may use natural materials in combination with the landscape, they may add sculptural or architectural elements to enhance or punctuate the landscape.

Washington-based artist Jim Sanborn's visually engaging and stimulating "Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries," on view at Grimaldis, changes our view of the land both literally and figuratively, without actually changing the land at all.

Working with massive rock formations in the Far West, Sanborn projects grids and other geometric forms (triangle, square) onto them at night, and lights them with searchlights as well to bring out the qualities of the natural materials. These work as temporary installations at the sites, but he also photographs them with 10- to 25-minute exposures to translate it into another form.

Sanborn's projections at first appear to obscure and reduce the natural objects; they quantify these formations, inducing us to look at each as a series of separate segments rather than one big mass, and can be seen as leeching them of power and majesty.

But they also have somewhat the opposite effect: By leading the eye to examine each separate segment of the gridded surface, they reveal these big hunks of rock to be much more complicated and subtle visual phenomena than they would otherwise appear.

Their surfaces present an almost endless range of color, texture, light and dark, upward and simultaneous downward movement -- a geyser and a cascade -- or elsewhere a sweeping lateral movement. They are no longer merely the result of the unthinking forces of nature down the ages, but immense sculptures crafted with infinite patience and care.

To Sanborn, the superimposition of geometric shapes on natural ones is an attempt to recapture the sense of the original geometric forms of landscape that erosion has made irregular. But it's much more difficult to envision the landscape as having once been made up of a whole lot of triangles and circles and squares than it is to see these works as comment on the interaction of man and nature.

They suggest both that technology usually imposes itself on nature in alien ways and that it needn't be so. With the proper approach, these images imply, one can coexist with and use the natural world as Sanborn does, without subjecting it to unnatural violence.

Jim Sanborn

What: "Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries"

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Jan. 11

Call: (410) 539-1080

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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