"Patricia, Alberta #10"
Dieter Schlatter, "Patricia, Alberta #10," n/d, acrylic, oil & photo on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Photo by Ted Clarke.
Canada House Gallery, Banff
Mar 25 — Apr 6, 2006
By Dylan Cree
Dieter Schlatter's assembled landscapes juxtapose nostalgic cliché with present-day techne. Combining oil painting with photographs taken during his extensive travels throughout Canada's western provinces, the Swiss-born artist articulates the aftermath of human intrusion on the environment. Each canvas is afragmentaire — a moody, conflicted vision of umber and sienna painted and dripped on and around digitally-altered images. His mixed-media process reframes the SuperNatural BC and Alberta Experience, each over-determined by touristic tropes, and each under seige by industry and agriculture.
Schlatter first encountered Western Canada through German textbooks, translations of Jack London's adventure stories, and personal accounts told by his geography teachers and fellow-students. Like so many Europeans, he believed the Canadian west to be "the wild frontier." A Vancouver resident since 1990, he says his actual experience of British Columbia and Alberta is haunted by the simulacra of his childhood-mediated sense of the West. "On my road trips," he says, "I feel as if I'm taking photographs of where I've already been."
Through ink stains, water damage, ruddy color, mood-reduced narrative, staged starkness, and suppressed Impressionism, Schlatter dampens the visual spectrum. His primitivist texturings do not dominate; rather, they give each composition the authenticity of time-worn markings on historical documents, engaging us conceptually with codified content. "One of the main foundations of my work is my interest in history, the impact we have on the environment, the traces and scars we leave behind and the energy reflected by these scars," Schlatter says.
The centred foreground signage in Seebe / Alberta #1, indicating that the highway forks east and west, organizes our encounter with the iconographic Rocky Mountains. The on-coming diesel-powered tanker truck, symbolic of Alberta's rich petroleum industry, inserts a physical measure to a scene that traditional landscape artists and postcard manufacturers systematically exclude. Schlatter doesn't celebrate nature as something to behold. Neither does he represent man's presence on the landscape as a corrupting force. Rather, in keeping with Martin Heidegger's assertion that our attitude toward technology cannot remain neutral, Schlatter shows that it is through technology that we encounter the land.
Manipulating techniques used to provide a sense of the pastoral, Six Mile Ranch #2 confounds our sense of the vast and bountiful prairies. Featuring a rolling landscape dotted with hay bales under a limitless sky, Schlatter converts the picturesque into a deathly calm expanse of (to use a Heidegerrian term) standing reserve. Even when indicating the painting's leaking poisons to be outside the bounds of the canvas, the magnitude of agricultural intervention and the oppressive petroleum-stained sky make our encounter with the land symmetrical and manageable.
The general theme throughout this series of paintings — nature as standing reserve, as the raw material of industry and agriculture — reflects, documents, and subverts the triviality of a narrative format that, within Canadian landscape painting, carries the excesses of sentimentalism. His paintings insist we reflect on the modern landscape pictorial composition as being invariably enframed by technology and within a regionalized touristic model.