Cristi Rinklin’s paintings are filled with forests and rocky outcroppings, with paths that seem to skirt the edges of glassy still ponds right before the water disappears.
That disappearing act and the way everything seems to float makes the dozen images in her exhibition “Displaced”—at Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, through Jan. 31—feel magical, otherworldly. The Boston painter’s woods can bring to mind the dreamy, misty hills and villages of traditional Chinese brush painting as well as the untamed, idealized American landscapes painted by 19th century realist artists affiliated with the Hudson River School.
But Rinklin’s realist scenes are vignettes floating amidst strands of flat, hard-edged cartoon clouds and soft-focus backgrounds that feel like images blurred in Photoshop. Step back a bit and Rinklin’s patterns, with their rich, subtly contrasting reds versus greens or blues versus oranges, evoke antique wallpapers or military camouflage.
Philosophically, Rinklin—whose work also will be featured in “Naturetech,” a group show opening at the Fitchburg Museum of Art on March 8—is involved in a post-modern project tugging at the nature of realism in a moment when everything is digitally photographed and then Photoshopped. Her paintings recycle pictures from paintings, wallpaper, Google images and collected photos. From this mélange, she produces paintings poised at the boundary of technology and tradition. It’s some of the best, most beautiful, most sensuous painting (she paints on impervious aluminum, which keeps her pigments slick and vibrant on the surface) you’ll see around these parts this year.
Rinklin has been exploring these motifs for years now. In the past, the sense of artificiality, of digital or cartoon confection was more pronounced. These new paintings make realist passages more prominent—and add an invitation to wander into these worlds.
That invitation—which can bring to mind the vicarious journeys through the misty hills of (again) Chinese landscape paintings or first-person video game adventures—is most pronounced in the trio of paintings “Specter 1, 2 and 3.”
The triptych invites you to wander trails that wind like M.C. Escher or Dr. Seuss constructions through realistic rust-orange trees and hills situated amidst flat turquoise clouds and red and turquoise blurs. It’s transporting—and a little disorienting—all the more so because Rinklin hangs the three paintings atop blue and gray wallpaper featuring similar motifs, which creates a hall-of-mirrors wow.