Sheryl Budnik’s Relentless Landscapes
It is exceptional to see landscape paintings that are as evocative as those by Sheryl Budnik. The landscape is a popular subject because everyone has some basis from which to contextualize it, and without the impediment of narrative, it’s easy for the viewer to enter into the work. Budnik’s paintings are surprisingly challenging because of their dynamic surfaces and disorienting compositions. One has a sense that she has something important to say, but she’s not going to spoon-feed it to you.
Like those of Joseph William Mallord Turner, Budnik’s paintings exhibit a kind of frenetic handling of the paint. The surfaces are thick, but while she is clearly enamored of texture, the resulting works are not mere homages to the painterly virtuosity of Baroque art, or the affected surfaces of Impressionism. Often scraped down, and built-up, they are more closely allied with the works of Albert Pinkham Ryder or Willem de Kooning.
There is a curious play of space within her works. Absent figures or any clear means to discern scale, the viewer has a difficult time knowing where he or she is situated in relationship to the setting. Furthermore, subjects that one intuitively expects to be open and expansive, intimidate us with their atmospheric effects, and those that are traditionally inviting or benign, uncomfortably compress the space.
Consider Budnik’s star-spangled night scenes. While one intuitively thinks of Starry Night, van Gogh’s radiant stars and buoyant swirling forms are grounded by the inclusion of a village with a few lit cottages. The latter reassures us that someone else is awake, and witness to this celestial anomaly. By contrast, Budnik’s stars look like suspended embers or brimstone, which may hurl from the sky with little warning.
Other than the occasional barn, orchards are among the few subjects she explores that suggest human intervention upon the landscape. The dense flora shuts-out the sky and restricts the viewer to a shallow space, forcing us to confront the stubborn dignity of hobbled fruit trees.
Budnik’s paintings are informed by a romantic sensibility, but they are neither sentimental, nor picturesque. Based on her subjective experience and interpretation, they serve as metaphors for universal human experiences, resulting in images that are not fixed or limited to any one place.
Sheryl Budnik’s paintings can be seen at Richard App Gallery, 910 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids. Gallery Hours are Tuesdays-Fridays: 10AM – 6PM, Saturdays: 10AM – 4PM