Studio Proof: Catherine Opie deviates and wows

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The spring exhibitions opened last Friday at the Wexner Center for the Arts, and feature two masterful and renowned artists working in different mediums — photographer Catherine Opie and experimental painter Jack Whitten. Both artists have been wowing audiences for decades and while each exhibit offers an abundance of stunning works to view, I’m going to focus on Opie’s “Portraits and Landscapes” here.

For Opie, a Sandusky native living and working in Los Angeles, this exhibit shows photography practices that are both familiar and new. Opie is most well-known for her intimate portraits and striking landscapes, and while there are surely examples of this at the Wexner Center, Opie also takes some digressions for these works (created 2012-13).

The portraits here feature Opie having “friends and people that I admire,” as she states, acting as subjects. This includes friends, family, fellow artists and some famous faces you may recognize. For “Portraits and Landscapes,” the sitters are posed in front of a black back drop and are often saturated in heavy shadows. It’s a darkly intimate collection.

Some of the most captivating images involve blood — the “Julie & Pigpen” portrait features the two in a passionate embrace that’s how I’d imagine vampires kiss, and “David” is a haunting use of crimson — or tattoos — (“Rocco” and “Indexa” are especially stirring). The portrait I found most fascinating was “Kara,” with New York City sociological artist Kara Walker as sitter, because her facial features just barely stretch through the shadows.

With her landscapes, Opie takes a wholly new approach that’s a massive departure from previous work. Opie’s landscapes are usually perfectly rendered images that capture both the scene and the feelings it conveys.

For this series, Opie has blurred the landscape almost to the point of being unrecognizable. While the viewer can make out aspects of the scene, it’s no way a formal depiction.

This is most powerful in a landscape of snow falling from the sky with coniferous trees in the background (“Untitled #1,” pictured). The image evokes the sensation of staring into space far more than a wintery tableau.

Photo courtesy Catherine Opie and Regen Projects, Los Angeles