The Surrealist painter René Magritte famously challenged the preconditioned associations of subject and image. By rendering familiar objects or human figures in a removed or unlikely context, he forces the viewer to engage the always-present gap between seeing and knowing. We may see an image and identify it, but due to its context, or lack thereof, we are left in limbo, unable to completely settle what we see with what our previous experience may have informed us about the subject. In this way, ambiguous and poetic possibilities of mystery, memory and imagination are given a greater significance than any literal depiction. No matter how realistic a subject may be painted, sculpted or drawn, the greatest essence of the subject remains in the viewer’s mind, not in the image.
In UNCHARTED, the works of Amanda Acker and Todd Freeman could be interpreted to follow a related trajectory, even if they don’t share Magritte’s burdensome quest to agitate a new movement of art theory. The drawings and paintings of Acker and Freeman suggest a journey, though without ever telling us what exactly that journey holds.
Each artist omits context in a pattern inverse to the other. Acker’s paintings offer a rich sequence of light-filled outdoor scenes. Flora, soil, water, and the slight suggestion of human presence are dynamically rendered, though for the most part in downcast, limited perspectives. It is never directly explained to be so, but the landscapes and flora feel familiar to a rural Great Lakes setting. The human figures, including shadow, are not identified, causing them to feel pleasantly mysterious, though not ominous. These believable scenes are beautifully depicted, though without sufficient context for us to fully agree on what is actually taking place, or by whom. Acker describes the paintings as both nostalgic and familiar, perhaps like a dream.
Freeman, on the other hand, produces finely detailed drawings that display every tiny element of his object-subjects, but without any context of use or location. They are drafted in a uniformly flat forced perspective so that no part is obscured. That, combined with the warm fading of the antique paper, makes it feel as if we are looking at images taken from an old textbook, a vintage instructional manual, or perhaps a traveling scientist’s notebook. Part natural history, part human history, part architecture, part utility and part invention, the rendering of these objects seems undoubtedly accurate, though their full function and origin remain unknown.
In both cases, the most powerful quality of Acker’s and Freeman’s images is not what they fully explain, but the exploration they quietly and beautifully suggest. UNCHARTED documents the tools, landscapes and specimen findings of an unknown expedition. The viewer must rely on his or her own memory and imagination to unfold the possibilities that the images provide.
- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator