A FLOCK OF LANDSCAPES Pinned to the wall of Prole Drift gallery.
  • JG
  • A FLOCK OF LANDSCAPES Pinned to the wall of Prole Drift gallery.

A Saul Becker landscape might be a painted sky hanging over a photographed sea on a piece of paper that fits in the palm of your hand. Real places are pulled into a frame, altered digitally and mechanically, and Frankensteined together enchanting monsters for your viewing pleasure. This is one way to be a contemporary landscape painter, to extend the tradition of using a flat surface and paint to evoke place, within a society awash in photography.

Becker was born in Tacoma in 1975, had early recognition locally in the '90s, then moved to Brooklyn and showed around in New York (including a collaboration with Stephen Vitiello, who's working on Seattle's waterfront). Ken Johnson of The New York Times wrote that his "eerily calm seascapes" were "like seeing through the eyes of the last man on earth." At some point he returned west, and now lives in Burien. His solo exhibition at Prole Drift, Dead Reckoning, is made up of clumps of small paintings pinned to the walls like flocks of birds, with three larger standalone paintings.

False rainbow, true mechanical sea.
  • JG
  • False rainbow, true mechanical sea.
Becker's art feels like painting but looks like photography. It has an odd offness that's easier to identify in the larger standalone paintings. The gallerist explained that even he's not sure what's going on where inside these pictures. What he does know is that the pieces combine painting, photography, tracing a projection, and transferring a photo (meaning pressing a wet version of the image onto paper, which horizontally reverses it).

Many, if not most, representational painters work from photographs, translating the camera's mechanically produced marks into their own particular style of hand gestures. Many times, you can't know for certain just by looking whether photography was part of the process at all—its visual traces can be erased in the transformation of making a painting. But the traces of Becker's camera, his hand, and his printmaker's smock are all mixed up together. And then there are the computer marks, subtle Rorschach mirrorings.

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Interestingly, Becker is going for something simpler and purer than a display of how mediation works. These aren't pictures he lifted from the Internet or any of the readily available infinite stock photo sources he could have used. He went to these places. He traveled all the way to the Arctic to take these pictures, then reduced each chosen and painstakingly witnessed place to a fragment of an archive on the wall. He saw lonely open ocean and framed it vertically like a person. He saw fields of industry and environmental destruction and added a yellow star in the form of paint on a streetlight. There's a lot of old-fashioned love and appreciation of the landscape in these pictures.

Yellow star.
  • JG
  • Yellow star.