Don’t let Chris Wikman’s compelling landscapes fool you. They are, primarily and foremost, a mere allusion of reality.
This self-taught artist’s earliest works were ambitious, highly-controlled, abstractions that were significantly closer to the aesthetic nature of Barnett Newman than Jackson Pollock. These images consisted of large fields of unadulterated color that are engulfed in bold outlines. They attempted to depict nothing other than a shape and color relationship.
The first decade of Wikman’s artistic development was marked by a slow drift from these controlled and formal abstractions toward his signature landscape work that is grounded in a strange hybrid of Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism, and Impressionism. His more matured expressions, for which he is best known, manifests his aesthetic transformation from complete abstraction toward representative work. A depiction of the landscape surrounding him has emerged within his corpus and he has moved from expressing himself in controlled, unadulterated color fields to a more wild, unrestrained, and verbose colorization.
However, Wikman’s own explanations of his creative process suggests that viewers should be cautious about their understanding of the content being depicted by his signature style. From his telling of it, this mature work is grounded in a specific kind of abstraction, giving it a strange relationship with the concept of representation.
In regard to depiction, Wikman works primarily from memory, creating specific images that emerge from his reflection on experiences grounded in various places he has been with his family and friends. By the artist’s own confession, his landscapes remain abstraction in the sense that the images are not meant to be a concrete depiction of physical actuality in time and space. He is not painting from photographs or from an actual placement in the landscape and is thus not painting in a this-is-that and this-is-that sort of depiction of reality. Instead, he is attempting to paint merely a believable landscape that is only meant to be a rendition of what is contained within his memory. This is to say that the subject at hand is not landscape but the nature of memory itself and its relationship to the perception of reality.
Wikman’s paintings draw on the vague memories of locations that haunt his mind and, as he attempts to commit these memories to the canvas, they also evoke the associated memories of his social experiences within that landscape. The result is images that, in essence, capture Wikman’s existential experiences within the natural landscape. In this sense, his images are attempting to offer the emotional landscape of his memory to the viewer to, in turn, provide them with a memory.
Another factor guiding the content of Wikman’s work is his obsession with giving visual attention to parts of the landscape that typically goes unnoticed because of our prevailing assumptions about the important features of nature. It is the artist’s goal to render a perception of nature through depictions of the transitional spaces between recognized natural landmarks. As a result, Wikman gives his aesthetic attention to innocuous, uneventful elements in the landscape like farmer’s fields, sloughs, flooded ditches or bluffs of wild trees along the highway – places that we would otherwise disregard.
Wikman’s insistence on painting from memory and without the restraints of any objective source material, combined with his emphasis on the banal elements of the landscape, creates allowance for a third element within his work – visual exaggeration. His perspective point, which is often close to the ground, fudges the viewer’s sense of scale within many of his images. As a result, sloughs, ditches, and flooded fields are often taken to be lakes while mere bluffs are taken to be entire forests.
Beyond this element of perspective, the Indian Head-based artist also plays off various visual tropes and indicators from romantic renderings of nature. The artist uses these types of tropes to exaggerate the true nature of the content. For example, he uses the highly romanticized visual trope of sunsets or sunrises over lakes when he is, in actuality, merely presenting a flooded field or ditch. These aesthetic assumptions cause the viewer to see a lake when they are, in actuality, seeing something substantively smaller and insignificant.
A superficial observation of Wikman’s work may suggest that these images are concerned with rendering nature. However, a more considered engagement with his personal declarations about the work suggests that what is really being explored in these images is the veracity of human memory in relation to the actuality of the places and social events in which those memories are forged.
Over all, Wikman uses form, content and intent to allude to the fact that our memories tend to create emotional landscapes for our perceptions that, in turn, color our perceptions of the real world around us. As a collective group of works, these images allude to the fact that, though memories can either romanticize or deprecate the places we have been and the experiences we have had, they always distort. Collectively, these images seem to suggest that reality, whatever it may be, is at a level of remove from our perceptions of it.
For those who do not consider these elements of Wikman’s work, they are deluded into the dictum that seeing is believing. For them, these paintings are merely landscapes.
To see more of Chris Wikman’s art