Profile: Skylab artist in residence Jessica Langley

  • Photo by Tessa Berg
By Columbus Alive
From the May 17, 2012 edition

For centuries, the beauty of the natural world has inspired artists to put paint to surface. Pittsburgh artist Jessica Langley fits loosely into this category, but her view of the landscape is as critical as it is reverent, as hinted at by the title of her new show, “Killin’ It.”

The exhibition of paintings and mixed-media works coincides with Langley’s month-long artist residency at Skylab, the first in a new program launched at the DIY arts space with support from the Greater Columbus Arts Council.

As Langley explained during last Friday’s opening reception, the new body of work was colored by a project her husband, artist Ben Kinsley, was working on in her studio space.

“It’s called ‘The End is Nigh.’ It resonated with me, this impending sense of doom, and that’s what the show is about,” she said.

A selection of large oil paintings created from Langley’s own travel photos features the standard landscape elements of trees, waterways, mountains and skies. But the works fix on signs of human-wrought destruction — a lake left dead by acid rain in the Adirondacks and marked by Langley in DayGlo and black, or a teepee of twigs in a Rocky Mountains landscape made barren by a pine beetle population that has exploded thanks to rising global temperatures.

Small, mixed-media works cover swirls of color and cutouts of imagery from outdoor sporting goods catalogues with drips of black, slurry-like goo and painted phrases that project apathy. Langley also experiments with sculpture in the “I Don’t Know” series, in which splashy paper forms of black and neon green swallow postcard-perfect images of the American West.

“Even though they’re pretty, the material is very sad,” Langley said, but the beauty of her brushwork — and Langley’s acid-dipped sense of humor — drive her point home with extraordinary force. During a walk-through she dropped references ranging from the Romantic landscape painters of the Hudson River School to the green slime flung on Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do That on Television.”

While in Columbus, Langley will explore new projects using photography and text, including a ’zine and a series of screen prints to be made in Skylab’s workshop. For random thoughts and updates, follow her on Twitter under the handle @lessjangley.