Whitney Bedford | Imaginary
30.08.22 - 15.10.22
Los Angeles-based artist Whitney Bedford questions our relation to images. Her work is informed by a deep engagement with the history of traditional European and American landscape painting layered with the conceptual strategies employed by contemporary art practice. In 2020 Bedford embarked on an extraordinary new body of work. Titled Veduta after the tradition of ‘view paintings’ made for travellers on their world tour in the years before photography, Bedford literally renders, reinterprets, and collaborates with some of art history’s most iconic landscape paintings. Interpreting the works of Turner, Constable, Van Gogh, and Munch for a new era, Bedford’s ongoing Veduta series approaches landscape through a temporal lens, drawing the verdant past into conversation with the increasingly arid present. Her new body of work on exhibition at Starkwhite filters the composition of these celebrated landscapes into a timely conversation with global politics and the very real present of climate change.
We live in a beautiful yet volatile and fragmented world, one reflected in the colour palette and architectural device Bedford employs in these works. She has created a potent language where each visual cue or metaphor is an element through which to chart and reexamine pressing contemporary concerns. These densely detailed and intensely chromatic landscapes offer a hauntingly beautiful world that spotlights the urgency of climate change and the Anthropocene, our current geological epoch where human activity is the dominant influence on environment and ecology. Each work in the series has a compositional plane of separation, Bedford placing in front each idealised landscape a plant that acts as a portent to an arid and more barren future. While strikingly elegant and appealing, these works represent a dramatic future reality when the ‘green and pleasant’ pastoral landscapes that surrounded artists of a previous generation are consigned to history.
Joining Bedford’s Veduta landscapes are a collection of her ongoing body of shipwreck paintings. Like the landscapes, these works draw on a traditional, academic imagery: that of historical naval painting. For this body of work the artist offers two distinct approaches, meticulous and finely drafted drawings of historical ships joined by energetic painterly gestures. Bedford has long explored how images might act as votives for significant ideas and experiences, both political and emotional. The roller-coaster ride of terror and grace embodied by Ruskin’s definition of the sublime – invoking awe or fear yet stirringly beautiful – is at play in these simultaneously catastrophic and serene paintings. Bedford’s expressive brushwork combined with the imagery of tumultuous seas and ships in peril echoes the upheavals individuals and society face, but also the self-preservation that such events generate.