What do we see in Tara Austin’s “Boreal VIII”

July 30, 2020

“Boreal VIII” was among the newest paintings completed ahead of Tara’s recent exhibition Boreal Ornament III.  So, if we were not familiar with this artist’s work, nor have we read any statements about it, what do we see, and how do we think about it?

We do have a clue – “boreal” – and we look it up and find it references northern biotic areas such as cold waters and coniferous forests.  And from the exhibition title, we may infer that the artist thinks of all the complex northern natural biota as having been outfitted with ornamentation.  So, in the painting, we see leaves fanning out, deep greens and darks of the forest, and maybe blue water that is contained.  Perhaps some areas are macro like the leaves, and some areas microscopic like the dark, speckled area in the upper left.

Or should we just look without any pre-conceived notion of the artist’s intent?  This way, we come up with all manner of observations such as:

  • it is geometric abstraction with circles that lead us around and disjointed rectangles that shift space.

  • it is a scene in motion with green ovals spilling downward from the upper right, fanned on their way; and a frame either being pulled or pushed apart, or held together by some attractive force.

  • it is a puzzle of pieces that we cannot quite figure out how to reassemble, but are in pleasing balance just where they are.

  • maybe the circles, big and small, represent an arrangement of planets we see from far out in space, and we are able to view the forest far below with our special vision.

  • it could be the painting presents a series of clues and it is up to us to find them and interpret the story.  In the lower right is a swimming pool with a palm tree, someone has released a flying green disc, there is a partial solar eclipse over a fluffy and stylized sky, someone has left thumbprints along the edges; Hmm….

Were we viewing it in person, we would also see the depth the artist attains by selectively painting on both the front and back of quarter inch clear acrylic.  This painting technique results in areas where we can see through from the front to the painting work on the back.  When we play the formal visual “game” of determining what is on the surface or picture plane, what is beyond or behind it, and what is in front of it, the “space between” the paint layers make this way of seeing even more satisfying.

There is no wrong way to look at a painting or other artwork.
Sometimes it is better to look first and read about it afterward.

Once we learn what the artist or writer says the painting is about, we can consider that information, but still judge for ourselves what we see.

And what will we see the next time we look at it?

~ Joseph Nease

Tara Austin “Boreal VIII”, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″, 2020

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