Max Cole: The Bounding Circle at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art in Santa Fe
There are rhythms inside us: the beating of the heart, the expansion and contraction of the lungs, blood cycling through the body, the coordinated motions of the villi, the rhythm of an eyelid opening and closing. There are rhythms outside us: the susurration of tides, the long beat of day turning into the long beat of night, the movement of seasons coming, going, returning.
Max Cole’s paintings contain rhythms. Oriented like landscapes these quiet and expansive works contain rhythms of repeating lines – horizontals of muted colors and horizontals made from the soft, fine, perfect vertical marks that Cole is so well-known for. Eggshell, sand, shadow, bark, fencepost, flower petal, wet earth, clay pot, bands of these soft colors alternate, open, repeat – woven together, speaking to each other in a unique language.
To be with one of Max Cole’s paintings is to be made to stand on the earth (really stand on the earth) and to open oneself, slowly, to the rhythmic language Cole is offering us. Many have suggested that Cole’s pieces suggest landscapes, distant horizons of repeated lines: fenceposts, powerlines, tree lines, furrowed fields, tall grass. While Cole’s work is not figurative, or even directly inspired by landscapes, they do have the effect of placing the viewer within their own unique, banded worlds.
The pieces included in “The Bounding Circle” were all created during an artist residency that Cole participated in in the mid-1990’s in Roswell, New Mexico. The pieces she created during that period were part of a show at the museum there at the end of her residency, and the ones included in this exhibition have not been shown since.
After a time in Los Angeles, Cole had moved to Manhattan to pursue her painting in a creative milieu that felt more in line with her aesthetic. She showed work in New York for many years, as well as keeping a studio in Germany and showing extensively in Europe. However, at a certain point, Cole felt that she wouldn’t be able to continue in the city and moved her studio to the Hudson Valley before eventually returning to the West. The Roswell Residency came at a time when she was looking to explore New Mexico as a new home.
While previous works had tended to be darker, heavier, with undertones of reds and blues, influenced by the darker skies and light of New York and Europe, the light and space of Roswell changed Cole’s work, shifting her palette significantly into lighter tones of earth, whites, pale blues, grays. Roswell, not too far from Cole’s native panhandle region, was a bit like coming home.
The pieces in this exhibition show something of this transition – with darker works like “Aeolus” opening up into the more spacious (and tonally lighter) pieces like “Pale Horse” or “Datura.” The titles don’t come first, but after, suggested by the finished paintings. This in itself is a clue to deciphering these works. Rather than looking for equivalencies, instead the viewer does well to sink gently down into experiences.
What happens, in the body, the mind, in the spirit, as one stands still and allows oneself to fall freely into a painting like Nightshade? Paradox. The unique viewer, standing with the unique painting, begins to sync, to breathe with the rhythms of the lines, to find a place as a human vertical standing in the horizontal of the gallery – reflected, reflecting, identifying.
The experience is a form of translation. Reading the paintings as transcriptions of energy, of the artist’s state of being while she painted. It is there – in the energy Cole used as she created those fine, vibrating lines, a message. The transmutation of energy into matter, and through the viewer’s gaze, back to energy again. A rhythm, endlessly returning.