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eaarth island: facing east (detail)

Earth Island

Tom Monteith

September 8– December 19






“And the sublime comes down
To the spirit itself
The spirit and space,
The empty spirit
In vacant space.”

-Wallace Stevens

The sublime of the isolated self is a distinctly American idea. So if by withdrawing, the solitary being connects with universal currents, as did Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Thoreau, then all caverns, all ravines, sierras, and solid ground -- are extensions of that self. And the painter becomes, in Emerson’s words, “a transparent eye-ball,” surveying both external and internal natures.

These vast, unstinting paintings by Tom Monteith, represent his twenty-year interrogation of the conditional self as filtered through narratives of the Western American landscape and the syntax of painting. Historically informed, his paintings straddle the terrain between figuration and abstraction, becoming provisional encampments, honoring fathers and ancestors -- Thomas Hill, Arthur Dove, Phillip Guston, and Charles Garabedian. Yet the expanding sequence of Monteith’s work lucratively mines this settled ground, gleaning fresh particles of nuanced conceits. Lean planks of scraped pigment uproot severed, Bunyunesque tableaus. Compressed fragments of landscape collide in sour Cubist grids. Dark, hermetic slippages graft anxious, improvisational space with new topographies of doubt.

Monteith is a refreshingly unpredictable colorist. Beginning with a muted, earthy palette of anemic siennas, acid yellows, and thunder grays he raises the dead with incongruous scenarios of thrumming carnival blues, greens, and complements of orange and black. The lack of unity to his palette suggests intuitive recalibrations of refreshed thought. No one manipulates dissonance better. But for all their gaunt, terse beauty (yes, beauty) there is a cerebral richness to Monteith’s work. The armatures on which it hangs are his motifs of space -- speculative juggernauts of the fractured, splintered, near-sighted, far-sighted, horizontal, and vertical. We stand before jumbo-sized paintings existing in the physical world and watch them dematerialize. Making peace with the rectangle, Monteith breaks camp and floats us out to silent islands in time.

The empty spirit in vacant space.

Julia Couzens
August, 2015


earth island: axis mundi

Tom Monteith – earth island
September 8 – December 19, 2015


University Library Gallery
Sacramento State

Phil Hitchcock, Director
University Library Gallery

Leslie Rivers, Assistant to the Director
University Library Gallery

Bruce Clarke, Photography
Academic Technolgoy and Creative Services, CSUS

Finish Line Print Specialists

Rich Design