Stephen Wirtz Gallery is
pleased to present
an exhibition of new work by Sean McFarland
While the title references a specific
place—Glass Mountain in California’s Inyo National Forest, where several of
the images were made—it also conjures a mythological space, in a poetic
overture that references dichotomies of endurance and ephemerality,
transparency and mystery, truth and belief.
Like the early
anthropological photographers, this work explores nature as other within the
cultural context of wilderness and the heavens. Included in the
exhibition are clusters of framed photographic images—primordial visions presented in fragments, collage, and Polaroids arrayed on the gallery
walls. These works are counter-balanced by large-scale c-prints suffused
with twilit inscrutability, but from which scenes of a dark spirituality
slowly emerge. McFarland adroitly harnesses the symbolic power of the
natural through images so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that, at
first glance, we are predisposed to accept their veracity.
Behind the curtain, however, an elegant
sleight of hand is at play, and closer inspection reveals impossible
photographic scenarios merely masquerading as truth.
operates with alchemistic ardor, constructing Polaroid pictures from other
media, and upending the visual cues and expectations associated with other
photographic processes, including cyanotypes, the c-print, and gelatin
Recognizing that truth is a never-ending
reckoning in photography, his work extends and deepens the debate, making
trust an integral prerequisite to the experience.
Drawing from early 19th
century photographers of the American West, the works are elaborate
conundrums of literalness and illusion, arguing that the camera sees
differently than the eye.
McFarland creates scenes of seemingly
familiar yet fantastical splendor from the most banal source material, even
producing convincing images of the natural cycles of earth and the cosmos from cameraless processes,
while cheekily asserting himself as our witness to apocalyptic explosions,
lightning strikes, and majestic mountains and waterfalls.
What is shown feels authentically observed
in nature, thus revealing our powers of cognition as thrillingly corrupt.
Sean McFarland earned his MFA from the California College of the Arts in
2004. He has exhibited nationally, internationally, and locally at Eli
Ridgway Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Berkeley Art Museum,
White Columns, New York, NY,
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF Camerawork, Headlands Center for the
Arts, The San Jose Museum of Art, Galeria de la Raza, and Jack Hanley
Gallery. He has received the Phelan Art Award in Photography from the San
Francisco Foundation in 2005, a Fellowship from the National Photography
Institute at Columbia University, Baum Award for an Emerging American
Photographer in 2009, John Guttmann Photography Fellowship in 2009, and a
Eureka Fellowship in 2011. His work is the collections at SFMOMA, Milwaukee
Art Museum, Oakland Museum, Berkeley Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American
Art Library, Humboldt State University, and UC Davis. Sean currently lives
in San Francisco and teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute.