Leah Ollman – Wheatcountry Exhibit Review

Wheatcountry Exhibit Review

by Leah Ollman

Wheat fields may sound like a hopelessly prosaic subject for an artist in the late ’90s, but Don Kirby’s photographs at Craig Krull Gallery remind us that art is all in the how rather than in the what. In a dozen black-and-white images made over the last six years in Washington, Idaho and Montana, Kirby frames extraordinarily beautiful passages in the landscape with the formal rigor of a Postminimalist keen to the power of distilled, reductive form and reverential of its roots in the organic and sensual.

Kirby’s work covers some of the same turf as the aerial photographs of Marilyn Bridges, but Kirby shoots across, rather than down, juxtaposing the patterns of the earth and sky to spectacular effect. In “Wheatfield II, Repp Road, Endicott, Washington,” the bristly shorn areas of the field gleam white against neighboring portions of smooth, dark soil. The tucks and curves of the land assume a bodily, sexual presence beneath the more diffused energy of the clouded sky.

In another image, heavy clusters of steel gray clouds bear down on a labyrinthine pattern of cultivated bluegrass, and in the stunning “Bluegrass, Jackson Road, Washington,” dense, striated patches of cut and growing grass subsume a hill, smothering it with a quilt of stripes.

Kirby packs some of the pictures with the aplomb of a pattern and decoration painter; in others, he lets the calligraphy of the land whisper quietly. His photographs records patterns imposed on the land mechanically and on a massive scale, yet they don’t engage issues of manipulation, function or ego. They are less complicated than that, more pure and utterly refreshing.