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OnlineJun 06, 2024

At Ellen Miller Gallery, Cristi Rinklin Paints on a Slippery Plane of Memory and Perception

Across twelve paintings, Cristi Rinklin confronts the inevitable effects of climate change by layering ethereal and psychedelic elements atop natural landscapes. In doing so, she reminds us of what we will leave behind, what we have already lost, and what we may live through in the future.

Review by Elisa Rowe

Installation view of three paintings in Cristi Rinklin's "Ecologies of Perception" exhibition. The paintings utilize psychedelic blues, greens, oranges, and pinks to create dream-like versions of landscapes occurring in the natural world.

Installation view, “Cristi Rinklin: Ecologies of Perception,” Ellen Miller Gallery, Boston, 2024. (left) Cristi Rinklin, "Revenant," 2024. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48” x 72”. (center) Cristi Rinklin, "Afterimage 2," 2024. Oil and acrylic on aluminum, 16” x 12”. (right) Cristi Rinklin, "Enargeia," 2024. Oil and acrylic on aluminum, 40” x 50”. Photo by Julia Featheringill. Courtesy of Ellen Miller Gallery.

Painter Cristi Rinklin often thinks about how we forget. Recently, I met Rinklin at SoWA’s Ellen Miller Gallery to see her show “Ecologies of Perception.” “I am kind of fascinated with this idea that when we try to call something back we don’t get the whole picture,” she shared. The exhibit consists of twelve pieces (many based on old reference photos with scenes of now unknown origins) that engage with forgetting as well as reimagining. Here, we see the flora and dimensions of the natural world twisting, fading, spilling, and slipping. These are landscapes whose timelines are flexible. Nature is portrayed as hazy, like a distant memory, yet warping, like a postapocalyptic future. The viewers enter a space of interrogation, questioning the veracity of our memories and the legitimacy of forthcoming climate doom as technology imperfectly captures what we have lost.

Installation view of the exhibition. The image is of a corner between two walls displaying works of art.

Installation view, “Cristi Rinklin: Ecologies of Perception,”  Ellen Miller Gallery, Boston, 2024. Photo by Julia Featheringill. Courtesy of Ellen Miller Gallery.

“I have always thought of the landscape as something that is not of the natural world,” Rinklin said, “that is something that is a construction.” Some pieces obstruct the environment using shapes that appear both natural and artificial. In the piece How do you bear the full weight? (2022) reality bends into blue and green arches that stack and turn (or twist). The result appears mechanic and futuristic. Rinklin cannot remember the origin of the landscape—she maintains a digital archive with thousands of reference photos from years of documenting— but she thinks it could possibly be from New Hampshire or West Virginia. Nature is so shuffled in this painting that the viewer has to squint through the orange sections of the forest to make out the outlines of a waterfall amid the melting foliage. It is reminiscent of a memory that is more of a feeling with a vague picture that fades the closer you get to remembering it or a prophecy too distorted to make meaning of. In two corners, there are opaque markings that look like a photo that was never fully processed or a picture obscured by a bright camera flash. The lines that run through the piece are too curved to give the painting a geometric feel but too apparent to assist in the creation of a single image. Instead, viewers are forced to look for details in the obstructions.

Rinklin’s work often centers on obstructed landscapes. For example, her pre-COVID series Harbingers homes in on sinkholes and their ominous visual presence in the natural world. In her series Loners, plastic bags stubbornly cling to naked tree branches in the wind. “My work is really about the forces of creation and destruction,” Rinklin said, “things being made and unmade.”

One series of foliage paintings (ranging from thirty-by-forty inches to forty-by-fifty inches) evades the categorization of landscape and buries the viewer in thick bushes of leaves and florals. The unrealistic colors give the pieces an atemporal look where no one season is suggested. These paintings, such as the piece Circle of Life (2023), are zoomed-in and disorienting. “I wanted to play around with different vantage points,” Rinklin said, “and in a lot of the larger landscapes there is a classic vantage point which we use to position ourselves. ” These pieces shift on the viewer by omitting a horizon. Florals are outlined, some in bold purples and neon lines, and others in a soft white. The bright colors are slightly distressing, like a picture altered by a filter or a nightmarish image of a chemical-filled forest’s future.

Installation view of a painting of a distorted path winding through the forest.

Installation view, “Cristi Rinklin: Ecologies of Perception,” Ellen Miller Gallery, Boston, 2024. Cristi Rinklin, To Be Determined, 2024. Oil and acrylic on aluminum, 60” x 70”. Photo by Julia Featheringill. Courtesy of Ellen Miller Gallery.

At first glance, the piece To Be Determined (2024) may appear to be the most natural-looking of all the paintings in the exhibit. However, on closer examination, small details are deconstructed. In the sixty-inch-by-seventy-two-inch painting, flowers blur into water, the dimension of green space stretches and flattens, and subtle horizontal lines divide the landscape. Two opaque curves reach towards the piece’s midline, resembling a broken, winding road. Another bright spot gives yet another illusion that the piece is a photo that is frozen in the developing process, never to be made coherent and whole. The viewer’s mind may be tempted to fill in what seems incomplete. It is a reflection of what Rinklin shared during our discussion, “I am also thinking a lot about instability,” she said, “and I am thinking a lot about destabilization and, you know, living in a time of incredible uncertainty. And thinking about the natural world as this place that feels very de-stable.”

Installation view of three paintings in Cristi Rinklin's "Ecologies of Perception" exhibition. The paintings utilize psychedelic blues, greens, oranges, and pinks to create dream-like versions of landscapes occurring in the natural world.

Installation view, “Cristi Rinklin: Ecologies of Perception,” Ellen Miller Gallery, Boston, 2024. (left) Cristi Rinklin, Revenant, 2024. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48” x 72”. (center) Cristi Rinklin, Afterimage 2, 2024. Oil and acrylic on aluminum, 16” x 12”. (right) Cristi Rinklin, Enargeia, 2024. Oil and acrylic on aluminum, 40” x 50”. Photo by Julia Featheringill. Courtesy of Ellen Miller Gallery.

Similarly, Revenant (2024) pictures a warped landscape whose streaks of paint give it a feeling of movement. Unlike To Be Determined, the color choice in this painting is more surreal, with lots of turquoise and blue saturated into the foliage and ground. The sky is off-white and the colors around it flatten and blur. The obscurities do not have a focal point. In some sections, trees twist, and in others, the ground bleeds. Like the other pieces, the painting’s obstructions are not used to hide the landscape but are a part of it. The smooth, transparent yellow parabola is as incorporated in the scene as the few detailed tree trunks.

Though Rinklin’s pieces have an ethereal and abstract quality, they also feel familiar. They are otherworldly but in the same vein as the uncertainty of a landscape recalled from the past or predicted in a stark future. With their distortions defying logic, viewers can’t piece together a complete landscape. Given the disastrous nature of climate change, Rinklin reminds us of what we will leave behind, what we have already lost, and what we may live through in the future.

Cristi Rinklin’s “Ecologies of Perception” is on view at Ellen Miller Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., A16, through June 15, 2024.

Elisa Rowe

Contributor

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