Landscape, Light, Romance, Nostalgia

by Hanna Hannah

#3 San Joaquin - oil on canvas 23

Paul Roehl: San Joaquin

In Svetlana Boym’s, The Future of Nostalgia, “off-modernism” is posited as “a critique of both the modern fascination with newness and no less modern reinvention of tradition. In the off-modern tradition, reflection and longing, estrangement and affection go together.” These affects are the essential operatives in Paul Roehl’s landscape paintings currently on view at his studio in Santa Cruz (at 501 Swift Street; (831423-3840).

Roehl‚Äôs ostensible subjects are specific places—San Joaquin, Etruscan Steps, Wilder Ranch, Assisi, Pogonip Walk, Lake Como, etc.‚Äîthat, with some rare exceptions, seem to dissolve into a single, aoristic sense of Landscape: pan-geography of an eternal everywhere.


Paul Roehl : Assisi

Even the light in these works is not time-specific, but rather penumbrous and aspic-like –similar to Chardin‚Äôs melancholy-enveloped still lifes– emanating as if on the oblique the result of an intense and penetratingly dense painterly process. Evident in Roehl‚Äôs richly moving facture, is a sense that the brushwork itself pries loose memories of places experienced and imagined‚Äîplaces that concertedly once dreamed us into the elusive contingencies of our inhabited scapes.

Carmel Valley

Paul Roehl: Carmel Valley

In the most evocative pieces the brushwork upstages the image, dramatically so in “Garland Ranch,” one of the larger paintings on view (approximately 18” x 24” –with most of his paintings measuring approximately 8” x 10”)which is a vast sunlit view. In this painting the sun disperses a warming glow throughout, the luminosity of which is, paradoxically, heightened by dry, open brushwork in an un-ingratiating putty color roughly covering it and evoking both a kind of fog either at dawn or dusk; while also bringing our attention to the facture itself and its cargo of affect. The ambiguity of time coupled with the dramatic inner light provides a key to most of the works on view: these are interiors in the sense that they are the melancholy constructs of the painter’s memories and emotions, and not the works of a sun-intoxicated plein-airist.


Paul Roehl: Big Sur Trail

The lynchpin group of paintings in this show are California Landscape #1, Fontainebleau, California Landscape #2, and Big Sur Trail. As a sequence they provide an almost cinematic progression through what could be a single landscape, the titles notwithstanding. The direct reference to the 19th c. Fontainebleau school of painters, and the echoes of Corot in several of the works here gives us a key to Roehl’s intent: his landscapes, for the most part, are never just a mere reiteration of historical precedent, but a melding of that precedent into an acutely experienced present.

The works as a group give off an aura of the Romantic in its various stances of nostalgia, which in its more facile manifestations is evident in works like Ponte Vecchio or Tuscan Landscape, which feel less compelling. However, overwhelmingly, these works convey a sense of antiquity transposed, which, like the air we breathe inescapably conditions the present.


Paul Roehl: Evening Light

In a painting such as Evening Light, there is a heightened sense of the role that the elemental plays in Roehl’s work. This particular piece gives a sense of symbolic “correspondences” as sky and water echo each other with equal dazzlement, while contextualized withinin the somber coloristic restraints of the surrounding landscape: the brilliance of a romantic élan is undercut by the emulsified daubs of paint that gesture trees and sky and earth into being. It is a privilege to witness painting here in its primacy.

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