Samantha Fields, American Dreaming
at LSH CoLab, Los Angeles
Reviewed by Eve Wood
The first verse of the Mamas and the Papas seminal 1960’s anthem California Dreamin’ begins with “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey,” at once establishing an atmosphere devoid of color, hope and youthful abandon, and certainly not a description one would associate with the sunny, carefree lifestyle that has become emblematic of the quintessential California experience. Ultimately the song is a lament, a yearning to return to a brighter, more hopeful landscape, if only in the songwriter’s mind. Samantha Fields solo exhibition, American Dreaming, could be said to expand on this longing, albeit taking a darker more ominous approach.
The idea that someone might actually “dream” in today’s fractious America is rapidly becoming an antiquated notion at best, replaced with the ever-expanding undercurrent of hatred, bigotry and misogyny that has, sadly, always informed the backdrop of American history. Certainly, black culture in this country has been brutalized by the promise of a dream that is constantly denied, bastardized, pillaged, raped and then reasserted over and over. Samantha Fields vision of the world can be understood through this lens where even the very notion of hope is exemplified in a spray of colored confetti that punctuates each burning landscape. Imagine putting a Band Aid on a gangrenous leg, believing that this gesture alone will somehow make a difference. Looking at these paintings feels very much like this, as there is an urgency, a necessity posited within each of these works for crucial and immediate change. At its best, art is a reflection of the world around us, a mirror to hasten change, not deny it. All of the paintings in this exhibition are, in their own way, a call to arms, a battle cry for a dying planet.
Most strikingly, very few of Fields’ paintings contains a literal human body as though all human culpability were funneled into each new disaster. For example, in the painting “Another Week in the Death of America,” 2020, we see a jetliner on fire, in its final descent to ground. Perhaps more than any other human advancement, flight could be said to exemplify both our greatest achievement and the pinnacle of our arrogance as a species. Most assuredly the planes that populate Fields’ startlingly stark and fiery landscapes are populated with human beings, yet we cannot see them, and are left only with the symbols of their advancements. Thus, these paintings feel more like metaphors for loss, though within each there is always an excuse for celebration, even at the cost of human life, as an explosion of brightly colored balloons surrounds the downed plane. This is an image that repeats throughout the exhibition in various iterations. Fields utilizes the image of the balloon and falling confetti as dynamic visual tropes. The floating bodies take the place of human forms as though standing in for us in each increasingly apocalyptic scene, empty-headed emissaries sent on ahead of us.
Strangely, the most ominous work in the show is not a painting of disaster at all but of Fields’ parent’s home in rural Ohio. Starkly contrasted with the other works in the show, the painting is an image of the back of the house with a snow-covered car in the drive, yet even here, seemingly far removed from the maddening crowd, confetti rains down like fire. We can kid ourselves all we want that we our safe, but Fields teaches us that the devastations of the world are painful and far-reaching.
Fields also conflates disaster with celebration. Rarely do you ever see confetti or balloons at a funeral, yet in Fields dynamic universe, the balloon functions as a strangely allegorical element, a harbinger of disaster, but also suggests the leavings of our human existence. Balloons can travel thousands of miles and pollute the most pristine environments. They’ve been known to cause dangerous power outages and countless fires, but they also kill countless numbers of animals every year because they can be mistaken for food. All in all, another seemingly innocuous and completely useless human invention. Nothing captures this sense of inane hubris like the painting “Dynamic Messaging,” 2020, that foregrounds a huge number of balloons flying into a forest fire. The painting is as much about our arrogance and complete lack of responsibility as a species and as stewards of the living world as it is about an actual landscape burning. This is Fields’ great genius – to posit for us a dramatic and traumatic event, all the while slyly and indirectly insinuating that we are the ones responsible for it in the first place. There is no pointing of fingers or literal translation of our human culpability here, only a dense flurry of colored balloons overtaking a dying landscape.
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Eve Wood is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Wood’s poetry and art criticism have appeared in many magazines and journals including Artillery, Whitehot, Art & Cake, The New Republic, The Denver Quarterly, Triquarterly, Flash Art, Angelino Magazine, New York Arts, The Atlantic Monthly, Artnet.com, Artillery, Tema Celeste, Art Papers, ArtUS, Art Review, and LatinArt.com. She is the author of five books of poetry. Also an artist, her work has been exhibited at Susanne Vielmetter and Western Project and Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York.