Into the Woods
Few artists are able to balance a childlike sense of wonder with a sophisticated pictorial language. Our capacity for wonder is largely educated out of us by an appeal to view life from a wholly rational perspective. To express herself, her true inner nature, JoAnne Carson found it essential to resist our secular materialist culture. Carson’s mature work follows out of the modernist spiritual explorations of Charles Burchfield, Marsden Hartley and Agnes Pelton, but at a distance, from the ambivalent perspective of her own generation, inflected through Walt Disney, Chuck Jones and the Chicago imagists. Still, her interest is to express life from the inside, as it is felt.
Yet, how to be true to one’s inner nature? Painting and drawing are ways of discovering what one feels. What results may often surprise the artist herself. In all these works, I find Carson creating glimpses of Nature as if she dwelt in an enchanted land. For me, her hybrid pictorial language evokes the psychological world of fairy tales. At the center of her explorations is an animistic way of thinking. As she works, she projects her spirit into all that she depicts. In this way of thinking, all things are alive and sentient. Carson’s trees, plants, streams, birds, sun, wind, snow, rain and fire all signify sensations. If we are receptive, they offer up images of the contradictory forces in the feminine self.
Carson excavates her buried emotional knowledge with each work, yielding a different metaphoric dynamic. Set in landscape format, each work features a dominant tree significant to her, but its importance isn’t immediately obvious. Her trees seem to embody a maternal aspect. Each brings forth new life in a bouquet of unique and fantastic blossoms, perhaps symbolizing an emotional re-birth. In several earlier works, trees even took on a female visage. In this exhibition, we experience a calm and playful joy in works like Sunny, 2022, and Daybreak, 2022, while Cloudburst, 2022, introduces a passage of ambivalent emotional turmoil. Each composition manifests a symbolic idea.
In a nocturnal painting, Once in a Blue Moon, 2022, Carson achieves an ecstatic result. Against a dark blue sky, a large tree’s limbs sway in a round rhythmic formation. Each branch bursts forth with night blossoms amidst translucent leaves. As we examine the flower’s luminous coronas and surrounding corollas, several seem to take on the appearance of stars and moon. The whole of the tree is enveloped in an expansive nebula of pale yellow-green light. Here then, Carson’s inner experience of the outer world presents us with a cosmic feeling of transcendental union.
Carson’s work seems to affirm aspects of herself to herself. Each painting is a playfully intimate extension of her being, mediated and vitalized by the imaginative force of her re-invention of the natural universe. In this grim time of biological, environmental and political pandemics, Carson’s paintings and drawings provide a welcome respite of pleasure and hope.
David Carbone, 2022