To the average tourist, Las Vegas pretty much boils down to three things: gambling, high-priced shows, and partying. It's not somewhere most people go to for architectural inspiration. But Anne Carney Raines, a painter from Nashville, Tennessee currently living in London, is anything but ordinary.
In her eyes, Las Vegas is a place of replications and caricature-like copies, from the first-floor canals of 'Venice' to the cutesy cobbled streets of 'Paris'; all temperature-controlled and illuminated by unchanging levels of artificial light. In her new exhibition at London's Wilder Gallery, Pleasure Zones, Raines explores this notion of fictionalised space to evoke simultaneous feelings of entrapment and seduction. She constructs complex environments that expose the artifice of painting through the visual language of theatre and set design.
The exhibition's title is taken from Learning From Las Vegas, the 1972 book by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour that was central to the development of postmodernist architectural principles.
This seminal work envisages places such as Las Vegas, Disneyland, shopping malls, and botanical gardens as "pleasure zones". As the authors put it: "Essential to the imagery of pleasure-zone architecture are lightness, the quality of being an oasis in a perhaps hostile context, heightened symbolism, and the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role." Raines is particularly interested in the image of the oasis as a cultivated or constructed zone, offering a form of escape for members of society.
It's a fascinating concept and beautifully released in this exhibition. All in all, Pleasure Zones is a triumph for the fast-rising artist, who has been championed by Jay Jopling's daughter Angelica Jopling with Incubator 21, is a Bloomberg New Contemporary x2, and also has a group show with India Rose James at Soho Revue.
Drawing on her background as a scenic painter, Raines constructs complex environments that shed fresh light on the artifice of painting via the visual language of theatre and set design. Her art investigates the relationship between interior and exterior spaces; mountains, gardens, and trees give way to each other in a series of painted panels, curtains, and openings, evoking collective memories of landscapes.
Many of the works in Pleasure Zones include images of landscapes, from gardens and arable fields to forests and mountainsides. Raines draws attention to the illusion of 'nature' and the mediated relationship we have with the more-than-human world. Many of us consume representations of landscapes more frequently than we encounter real ones; we live among iterations and artificial versions of ecosystems, pleasure zones tidily simulating our favourite elements of the outdoor environment.
Topiary mazes appear as repeated motifs throughout the show. In topiary gardening, nature is carefully controlled; sculpted trees are used to hide and reveal landscape vistas, manipulating how visitors move around a space. They play a similar role within the paintings, repeatedly baffling and reorientating the viewer's eye. Raines' mazes feel both dreamlike and nightmarish, evoking the contradictory fear and fantasy of getting lost.
Her oeuvre is firmly situated within its art historical context, speaking particularly to the tradition of landscape painting in which images of 'nature' are constructed according to aesthetic rules with architectural precision. She also draws on trompe l'oeil, a type of painting situated in the grey zone between fine and decorative arts.
With interest in the qualities of painting as a medium, Raines repeatedly plays with the artificiality and two-dimensionality of the picture plane. She creates layers of paintings within paintings, revelling in the technical process of representing a flat painted surface within another flat painted surface, breaking the fourth wall through her meta-theatrical illusions and inviting the viewer to get lost within her fictional worlds.
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