From her earliest renditions of architectural fragments on aluminum cutouts in the 1970s, to the patterned formal gardens set within wide scenic vistas of the '80s, to the highly stylized fields of exquisitely rendered forests in the '90s, Astrid Preston has explored landscape as a wholly human construct. Enlisting rich landscape traditions as far-ranging as Chinese scroll painting, the sweeping naturalistic panoramas of 19th-century Western art, and even decorative design, her paintings embrace the perennial human need to understand our relationship to nature. Since 2000, in lieu of conventional perspective, Preston has painted from camera close-ups of dense patches of foliage captured in her garden or neighborhood. Luscious fields of photographically rendered leaves and flowers in which green-black shadows alternate with glistening white highlights and every imaginable hue of green or brown, their primary interest was in their oscillation between representation and abstraction.
With her new exhibition, Preston has expanded on such familiar photorealist repartee to allow for a more ambiguous use of space, and more painterly effects and incident in place of compulsive detailing. The result is less a reduction of the natural world to a vivid aesthetic experience and more of a pronounced dialogue concerning the boundaries between order and disorder, or wildness and civilization. Underscoring this tension, most of her paintings are now executed on natural raw linen, the brown ground espousing the earthy and real, with the images artificial. Larger elongated horizontal works recall Japanese folding screens, especially in their attention to the many delights of natural phenomena. Windblown flurries of brightly colored leaves and flower petals, interlacing scrims of autumnal foliage, and arching branches absorb us in meditation on subtle changes in color and form as they continually morph into flat unrecognizable abstract shapes or disappear into subtly tinted, atmospheric clouds of paint. That sense of interchangeability and impermanence in nature, generated either by natural cycles or human agency, is accentuated in a group of smaller, more minimal works. In Branches on a Blue Sky (2010), bare, finely filigreed branches reach from the sides of the canvas to nearly fade into an intense glowing blue rectangle bordered by raw linen. Whether a contemplative scene from a window on a bright winter day or a nuanced projection of the natural into a human geometric scheme, Preston's recent work implies the natural is always in precarious balance with the human.