The very modest size of Albert Kresch’s paintings—of Nova Scotia, Maine, upstate New York and New Mexico—accounts in part, oddly enough, for the impact of their dreamy expansiveness. Often just a foot on their longest side, or even smaller, they are invested not only with a feeling of capacious space but also the temporal dimension of myth. Each of these landscapes is the record of a particular encounter recorded on site, initially in acrylic, then oil; Kresch further develops the scenes in his studio into oneiric imaginings of grandeur. A heartfelt rapport with his chosen locales links him with Albert Pinkham Ryder and Marsden Hartley (who painted in some of the same places); Kresch’s rich palette calls to mind Georges Rouault’s glowing visions.
Kresch registers a site’s character, its weather and the mood it evokes in him, but also—and this is part of what makes them so distinctive and affecting—his landscapes suggest an ongoing narrative, sometimes tied to the distant past. The Sower (2004) depicts the virtuous, archaic labor associated with the field workers of J.F. Millet and van Gogh. Farmer, Wife and Escaped Horse (2009) might refer to an old, oft-told story, and the archaic title Dancing Couple of Yore (2009) likewise invokes a long-ago age. The 9-by-12-inch Dionysian Mysteries Devotees (2009), with its frieze of figures animating a greensward beneath a luminescent sky, is staged in an Arcadian past. While these are all paintings with figures, they provide a clue to the poetic effect throughout. A sense of immanence, of the landscape being inhabited, persists even in figureless paintings like Cloud Procession, Near Jeffersonville (2005) and Near Lake Erie, N.Y. (2007).Though unpopulated, such paintings present zones of potential human activity, perhaps even ritual.
Kresch bluntly delineates his forms in black and, through successive layering of colors, builds rich optical mixtures. His surfaces are often dry-brushed and, given oil paint’s slow drying time, one surmises a long process invested in each piece. The paintings’ evident history of being made suggests an analogue to the quality of deep time that they convey. The granular surfaces make seeing a matter of tactility, just as they seem to affirm the imagination as a textured field, sensuous and material. And, of course, such physical and psychological depth takes on special resonance in relation to the paintings’ being, in some cases, as diminutive as postcards. They provide a perfect example of Gaston Bachelard’s notion of “intimate immensity”: the visionary character of Kresch’s paintings would be lost if their scale were not so disarmingly right.
Photo: Albert Kresch: Dionysian Mysteries Devotees, 2009, mixed mediums on canvasboard, 9 by 12 inches;
at Lohin Geduld.