Violet seas and anthropomorphic rocks: Two American photographers confront the natural landscape in the post-industrial age

The work of two American artists, David Benjamin Sherry (born 1981) and Matthew Day Jackson (born 1974) is currently on show as part of a major new exhibition, Out of Focus: Photography at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

The exhibition spans a wide range of contemporary photographers’ work, yet these two artists have an interesting level of homogeneity; with a ‘neo-romantic’ approach, both are led by an enquiry into – and subordination to – the rocky, tempestuous landscape of the United States, yet with very different results.

David Benjamin Sherry: Hyperborealis, 2011, C-print, 182.9 x 232.4 cm. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London. © David Benjamin Sherry, 2011

Born in Woodstock, New York and now working in New York City, Sherry has created a series of large-scale analogue photographs that depict natural areas of the American West: mountain lakes, misty forests, caves and mountains, which he has saturated in filters of red, blue, yellow, acidic green and powdery violet. The hue, which is chosen depending on the artist’s mood, is imbued during exposure or afterwards in the printing process.

The titles of Sherry’s works indicate his primary concern with colour and its synthesis with cognition and spiritual meaning. For instance, a piece depicting a rough, tree-strewn beach bathed in a soft violet light is given the title All Matterings of Mind Equal One Violet, while a mountain-top steeped in faded, technicolour green is named Holy Holy, reminiscent of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s violently dreamy, mind-altering 1973 film Holy Mountain.

David Benjamin Sherry: All Matterings Of Mind Equal One Violet, 2011, C-print, 182.9 x 232.4 cm. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London. © David Benjamin Sherry, 2011

The vivid, transcendent colours draw the viewer into these deep expanses of natural land with their intense beauty, yet their appeal is meshed uneasily together with the seduction of artifice and sensation that dominates our post-industrial culture.

Originally from Panorama City in California, Jackson currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Led by a preoccupation with the potency of the Earth, the artist spent four months driving through the United States in search of land formations that, at certain angles, give the suggestion of anthropomorphic faces. He describes these perceptions as ‘Mother Nature’s Land Soldiers’; the hostile manifestations of a post-apocalyptic future, surfacing to reclaim the Earth after its destructive human occupation.

Matthew Day Jackson: The Lower 48 – Alabama, 2006, 48 C-prints. Each: 39 x 56 cm Overall: 312 x 336 cm. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London. © Matthew Day Jackson, 2006

Jackson’s exhibited work consists of 48 large photographs, each depicting an historic region of the continent. As with Sherry’s photographs, their size and positioning on the gallery walls – towering over the viewer that stands before them – add to the sense of high Romantic deference to the immense force of Nature that these two artists are simultaneously confronting.

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