Though Harold Ancart’s work almost always begins with the drawn mark, it takes a variety of final forms. Objects that can be viewed as paintings, sculptures, and installations have defined his exhibitions, suggesting that the role of an artist is best described as that of the wanderer: a figure borne along by his impressions and his ability to generate images, with each work pointing the way to the next. In Ancart’s case, this movement also represents an astute amalgamation of European and American art historical traditions.

Grand Flâneur consists of a single work: a monumental mural, 14-feet tall and 37-feet wide, rendered with oil stick pigments on a concrete wall constructed in the gallery space specially for the exhibition. At once an imaginary travel sketch writ large, a drawing at extreme scale, and a commanding sculpture, the work confronts the viewer with a vast image that dominates the field of view. Culminating Ancart’s exploration of dimensions and disciplines, the mural, like much of his work, occupies a fluid terrain between abstraction and representation. The work’s sensory effects, both visual and tactile, hinge not only upon the economy of its design, but also the materiality of its surfaces. Like his oil stick drawings on paper and canvas, which inspired the composition, Ancart leaves areas unmarked by painterly gesture, here incorporating concrete directly as color and texture. Considering this immediacy along with the work’s sheer size, Ancart’s mural can be understood to embody the presence of a landscape rather than merely depicts one.

Bringing together issues of environment, scale, and abstraction in this way also links Ancart’s project with a diverse range of art historical precedents: the vistas conjured by Hudson River School landscape painters in the 19th century, the optics of continental Impressionists that followed shortly thereafter, and the non-objective fields that would define American abstract painting in the postwar period. Oil-heavy surfaces and jagged mark-making, for example, recall the gestures of Clyfford Still’s major canvases, as does Ancart’s ability to channel the action of dispersion within the static frame of the picture plane.

And yet Grand Flâneur is also a reminder that drawing and painting need not take place solely on standalone supports designed to hang on the walls of idealized viewing spaces like galleries and museums. Inspired by the example of Mexican muralism (Ancart produced a previous wall-based work as an outdoor installation at Fundación Casa Wabi in the state of Oaxaca) and the important role murals have played in the development of public art in postwar Los Angeles, Ancart engages with the history of image-making as a social phenomenon. He poses questions about what it means not only to create pictures of landscapes, but to create works that inhabit, alter, and inform the landscapes in which they appear. Though the image depicted on the wall is indicative of a visionary, highly personal sensibility, walls themselves are decidedly communal objects. They are by their very nature shared experiences: sculptural lines “drawn” in space to enclose shelters and define the contours of cities, homes, and lives.

From this perspective, the title of the exhibition takes on particular poetic significance. If the flâneur is one who moves idly through an urban context, reveling in the seductive nature of what he or she encounters and generating aesthetic pleasure with the simple act of looking, the work at the center of Grand Flâneur posits that artists and viewers alike constitute a special breed of tourist, passing by sites of interest on a larger journey that exceeds the delimited area of any one moment, space, or artwork. Indeed, Ancart is simultaneously presenting a solo exhibition at the Menil Collection in Houston that features a series of oil stick drawings produced from the back of his car as he drove across the United States in 2014. Grand Flâneurinverts this premise, granting its viewers the chance to experience firsthand the many dimensions of landscape, including its idealized, actual, artistic, and cultural forms.

Harold Ancart - Grand Flâneur
David Kordansky Gallery, September 9 - October 22