March 16, 2009
Jonnel Covault’s exhibition Intricate Nature at the beppu wiarda gallery is technically solid, but lacks heart. She achieves a precision with her method of repetition that is interesting to peruse, but does not successfully convey the dimensional depth inherent in the experience of being in and viewing nature.
Each linocut in the show is black and white. Covault uses fine geometrics to reproduce the rhythms of land and air. She effectively uses the medium by carving shapes slight and sinuous as air and clouds. There is no negative space in these prints. The textures that inhabit the spaces she creates-the air, water-are alive with movement, dynamic as the places they depict. Fine detail work fills these linocuts with an unending weaving of small shapes. Swirls, triangles, circles and trapezoids define bark, sand, sky, and water. The various shapes she employs are small scale, deliberately arranged and finely constructed. Ordinary in and of themselves, in multitude and aligned they effectively convey the dynamism of the natural landscapes Covault presents. The repetition she uses illuminates inherent yet unseen patterns of the world through her eyes.
“Salmon River’s End” depicts the estuary and mixing zone where river meets sea. It is a quiet day at the beach and the ellipses Covault uses to present and define the water convey the stillness of the moment. A rocky outcrop just offshore rests in the water. No crashing waves or ocean spray disrupt the serenity. An almost life-size sandpiper perches in the lower right corner next to a patch of thistles and foxglove. In amongst the flowers is an unexpected detail: two paintbrushes (identified as numbers 2 and 5) grow as though a native element in the scene. This reference to the work of artmaking pulls the viewer out of the place. They are large relative to the ocean, trees and rocks and located in the foreground. This is an unwelcome distraction.
The rhythm she establishes with the smallest shapes is an impressive and effective use of the linocut. “Watermarks” is a representation of large driftwood suspended in the tidal zone by the receding tide. A tangle of seaweed lies caught on a foot of the log as deposited by the ebbing water. In the foreground circles and arcs are etched into the sand by creatures that have since vanished into the sea or sand. A viewer can perceive the ridges the receding ocean left behind. The driftwood is alive with movement. Triangles, lines, ovals are composed into a symphonic rendering of the beached flotsam.
“Ancient Redwood” presents a birds eye view of the skyward reach of the sequoia. The dead wood that often tops the oldest trees rises weathered and devoid of foliage, but this is no barren field. Sky, air, clouds, are defined in layer after layer in across the print. The atmosphere she creates with curving thin lines convey movement, ever present but beyond our visual range. While this is an intellectually and visually effective technique it fails to communicate the mystery embedded in the mist and clouds that surround the needles.
Overly cute symbols embedded images detract from of these places. The hearts and peace sign do not belong. Thoreau’s well worn “In wildness is the preservation of the world” is etched prominently across “Stout Grove.” Covault could have gotten there through her take on these places-her method and vision are compelling-but the use of these icons undermines the strength of the work.
If Intricate Nature is about illuminating the unseen dynamism of the world that surrounds us, Covault successfully presents that as an intellectual idea. However, intricacy without intimacy ultimately fails to satisfy. Multitudinous shapes and sheer volume do not equate to dimensionality and depth. Her depiction of the rhythms of the natural world are interesting to peruse but fail to transcend the two dimensions of the print or elicit the sublimity these places should conjure.