5 April 2008 12:30 PM
If Lauren Karnitz is working within the long tradition of landscape painting, hers is a perverse, up-to-date reversal of its conventions. Where Romantic painters sought to bring the vast, sublime outdoors to the controlled viewing space of the canvas, Karnitz seeks out that most banal and diminutive of subjects, the American suburban lawn. But as the contemporary painter is wont to do, she finds in this everyday sight seeds of surprise and storehouses of strange energy. Under her scribbly, swooping brush, blades of grass become not just towering flora but shimmering flames—as well as paint, pure and simple and weird. Sometimes a picture is not the thing it depicts but just paint, that mysterious oily matter. This tension between subject and substance is most precariously at work in the ribbons of white paint that wind across Karnitz’s pictures, snaking through the grass like wordless banners, unhinged horizon lines, or even a prankster’s roll of unwound toilet paper. Whatever they might be, their jarring liveliness ties the landscape together but also acts to keep out unwanted visitors, as if to say: Don’t walk on the grass.