Walden Pond

Bill Kane's Walden Pond series began with a need to reestablish his connection with nature.

After two years making works based on his photographs of the violent graffiti of the Berlin Wall, Kane longed for a subject and for imagery that could inspire emotions that he calls healing or regenerative.

He thought of Thoreau's Walden and also recalled, as he had recalled so many times throughout his artistic career, his own love of Abstract Expressionism and of what he calls its underlying sense of order.

Shortly afterwards he was photographing at Walden Pond.

Kane's works consist of large black-and-white landscapes of Walden, printed on 4 1/2 x 6 foot photographic paper that is mounted on still larger pieces of linen. Around each landscape are two negative numbers in the clear film around the negatives; and a white border with black abstract shapes here and there within it. Raw linen sometimes forms a thrid and outermost border. To some works the artist has attached a large flat piece of wood or of sheet lead or of other material, covering part of the landscape image.

In other works, these are not traditional photographs. In traditional photography the image is the entire work. Kane, however, uses the photograph - landscape or view - as only one element in a larger visual work.

Walden is a small oval pond - you can walk around it in forty-five minutes; from the simple shoreline on one side you can see it all at once; on the opposite side the shore winds in and out, and in its many small and shallow inlets you sometimes lose sight of the pond itself; vegetation and terrain change little. Kane's views turn this limited and often repetitious shoreline into something rich, endless, and continually varying.

The photographic images at the center of Kane's works, the views of Walden, are simple generalizations, broadly conceived: here is Walden's shoreline, seen always from across the lake; here are its trees, its water, its sky; such are it shadows and its brightnesses.

However, as we go from these views outward to the rest of the works themselves, considering the borders and even the raw linen - mounted on stretchers, like paintings - we see that these works that began in photography, depiction and nature end in painting and abstraction.

Moreover, when a piece of lead or of wood plank covers part of the landscape, we discover that a work beginning with imagery and with the illusion of space ends with real objects and becomes itself a semi-sculptural object projecting into real space.

Two-fold also are the pleasures of Kane's work. First there is the simple pleasure of seeing an artist's deft handling of the elements. The details, for example, reflections, or rocks along the shore: in these large prints, on a paper that seems to absorb light - the image seems to exist beneath the surface - they have the immediacy and the delicate touch of small details in a charcoal drawing.

However, the photographs, so full of incident, are neither full of effect nor charged with fact; were they either, we feel, they couldn't take part in the complex structures of the larger works. In this regard, consider how the abstract elements surround the landscapes relate to the broadly conceived blacks and whites within the views themselves.

And there, where abstraction becomes landscape, landscape abstraction, we discover this work's second realm of pleasure, complex, intellectual and contemplative. Consider a piece of lead- discolored, wrinkled, oddly-shaped, a found object perhaps - placed over a landscape: is it more or less abstract, natural, artificial or real than the photograph beneath it? Similar dualities throughout Kane's work continually lead us to reexamine our idea of what an image is.

Are not Kane's dualities also variations upon that interesting moment of need when the artist turned to Thoreau and Abstract Expressionism? And are we not encouraged by Kane's resolutions of these dualities to see his sources as versions of the same thing?

The Abstract Expressionist's sense of order comes in part from their vision of nature and from the longings it inspires both for the emotions of individual heroism and for a new landscape art. Thoreau too saw nature as a source of emotion and of creativity.

Kane's dual sense of Walden as nature and as art, as image and as abstraction, as energy and as a tale of a walk around a lake, is in the same long American intellectual and Spiritual tradition.

Lucas Shatto

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