Erasure Leaves The Most Beautiful Images: Sam Falls at moCa

Sam Falls, Untitled (Santa Monica National Recreation Area, CA, Woolsey Fire) 2020, Pigment on canvas

Aching traceries of grasses arch and sway across colossal canvases as part of Sam Falls’ exhibit, We Are Dust and Shadow, at moCa Cleveland now until June 11, 2023. Bits of the forest have disappeared and leave only white silhouettes behind, maybe answering the question, “What void does the natural world leave when it goes away?”

Falls’ work is at once massive and intimate. “Untitled (Santa Monica National Recreation Area, CA, Woolsey Fire)” is a gallery-long frieze where the bones of the forest crack through swaths of dark, dark—almost black—green and pops of acid chartreuse suggest structures of what once lay beneath. Its immensity chokes the breath in the throat even as it whispers, “Do you see the dancers dance?” And bookending this piece are two assemblages of found book covers: stacked, immovable geometries. Fraught, indeed.

Sam Falls, Harvest (2021), pigment on canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber

Uneasiness never looked so good. “Harvest” waterfalls vast, swooping color that freezes momentum and abundance. “An Ambulance Can Only Go So Fast” spatters dappled, anxious light upward, with constellations of organic shapes—leaves, flowers, grasses—somehow proclaiming torrid resurrection.

Ferns abound and leaves and flowers tumble, frozen throughout “Ornithomancy,” “Magnolia,” and “Fall Foliage (Capital Region 1).” Falls freezes motion delectably, sometimes filling vast canvases where movement seems to continue beyond the edges of the work, sometimes composing thoughtful, tight arrangements that follow an etiquette of presentation. In layering the white, negative spaces of flowers, leaves, and animal tracks, Falls deconstructs botany to show the beauty in evaporation and erasure. His colors pulse underneath and suggest deep dyes, the speckledness of spray paint, and translucent pools of pigments.

Sam Falls, Ornithomancy, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber.

Falls often creates these large works in nature itself, spreading empty canvas outside. He arranges found plant parts, rocks, and leaves on top and covers all with a cold water-reactive pigment. Then days or months pass and the sun and rain do their work, weathering the images and colors into the canvas underneath.

Accompanying Falls’ large canvases are works in other media. Shimmering pillows of pastel airbags pop across a long gallery wall, each embroidered with Latin phrases. The first nods to the exhibit’s name We Are Dust and Shadow, taken from a line from one of the Odes of Horace, a lyric poet writing around 23 BC. The clash of the domesticity of embroidery on an inflated (now unusable) airbag in a dead but foundational language—the head hurts and giggles simultaneously. 

Sam Falls, We Are Dust And Shadow, Embroidered air bags, 2022

A video installation, “Sunrise/Sunset Golden Hour” simulcasts two sides of the earth, synchronously showing sunrise and sunset. It’s a convenient package of awesome, with the viewer directed to sit on the strategically placed gallery bench between two screens. And closing the exhibit are two enormous carpets hanging heavy in the last gallery, punctuating the ethereal with a final geometry.

We Are Dust and Shadow is in the Kohl Atrium, Mueller Family Gallery, Cohen Family Gallery, and Cahoon Lounge at moCa Cleveland, which is located at 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland 44106, in University Circle. Open Thursday through Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm. Free admission. Presented with the support of Dealer Tire, 303 Gallery, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, and the Anselm Talalay Photographic Fund.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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