Tectonic Visions:
A Note on Jack Stuppin’s Recent Landscapes

by Mark Van Proyen
Professor of Art History, San Francisco Art Institute
Contributing Editor, Art Week magazine

To look at any one of Jack Stuppin's landscapes is to see two obvious things: configurations formed out of colorful, glistening paint and the idealized pictures of a luxuriant natural world. From this description, one might go on to say that it is equally obvious that Stuppin's vibrant depictions are conveyed to the viewer's eye by the exaggerated chromatics of the paint that he uses, and that would also be true, or at least true enough. But that is where their real story begins rather than ends, because the essence of that story lies in what is found in the transitional space between paint and picture. Here, we gain a glimpse of the kinetic geology that is in a perpetual state of insistent slow-motion eruption, always operating at the heart of the paintings' deceptively benign appraisals of places lying far beyond the outer fringes of exurban encroachment.

In large oil paintings such as Laguna Trees (2005) or St. Helena from Pine Flat Road (2006) the compositions are predominated by baroque renditions of rather fantastic looking foliage. In these works, up thrusting tree limbs support perfervid clumps of twig and leaf, all leaning over clots of groundcover that bears a startling resemblance to the well-stocked produce section of an upscale supermarket. At cursory glance, the painterly treatment of these tangles of foliage might seem to err on the side of decorative repetition, but closer inspection reveals the abundant delights of elaborated theme and variation in those places where pattern might have initially seemed to hold sway. Like the interpenetrating lines of music that come together to form a four-part fugue, the brisk swirling brushstrokes from which Stuppin's verdant clots of pyrotechnic color are carved seem to carry their own unique voices with them, even as they also merge into a chromatic polyphony that in turn merges into the larger panoply of these paintings' compositions.

In 1995, Stuppin arranged for an extended visit to the Farallon Islands some twenty-five miles beyond the Golden Gate, probably making him the first artist to paint their stark juxtapositions of bare rock and angry sea since Albert Bierstadt visited them in the early-1870s. Plein air paintings from this and subsequent visits were first exhibited at the California Academy of Sciences in the fall of 1997, and in 2005, Stuppin began a series of large oil painting that re-worked the compositions of the earlier efforts. But in this reworking undertaken in the relative comfort of the studio, something else began to happen, as the elements of sky, ocean and rock began to take on a more animated quality, seeming as if they were antediluvian characters awakening from a long slumber. We see this clearly in the elongated pyramidal geology made up of inverted v-shaped brushstrokes in Window Rock (1st version, 1995; 2nd version, 2005), and we also see it in the progression of arcs describing the dome-shaped rock in the center of the composition of Main Top (1995/2005), looking so much like the furrowed eyebrows of a bald giant enticed out of the turbulence of a primal soup by the fluffy custard clouds situated just above his head.

Mark Van Proyen - January 27, 2007