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Review: Mark Swope spies drama along the sidewalk

December 18, 2012|By Sharon Mizota
  • Mark Swope's "Pasadena, CA," 2005, archival pigment print, 14-inch by 19-inch image on 24-inch by 30-inch paper.
Mark Swope's "Pasadena, CA," 2005, archival pigment… (From Craig Krull Gallery )

Walking into Mark Swope’s exhibition of photographs at Craig Krull Gallery is to be greeted by a surprisingly expressive juniper. Like an onion left too long in the produce bin, it is rounded and full at the base, erupting into a burst of tempestuous, flame-like tendrils up top.

This exuberant flourish seems wholly out of proportion with the modest stucco home behind it, creating an appealing tension between the wild and the mundane. In progress for about a decade, Swope’s series “Foliage” provides a humorous, sometimes startling glimpse into the hidden life of domestic shrubbery.

Or perhaps not so hidden. In image after image, Swope finds moments of fantasy embedded in everyday suburban landscapes: geometric topiary gone rogue, hulking ivy monsters gingerly spreading their skirts across the sidewalk or tangles of branches as blustery as a Turner landscape.

It’s a tumult we seldom notice walking down the street (when we walk), and it only becomes visible through Swope’s disciplined, New Topographics-style framing: clear, central, straightforward, and plain enough to let the quiet drama of plants emerge.

One might see this work as a commentary on the futility of shaping and containing nature, but the series’ pleasures are slier. It’s deliciously ironic, after all, to find such an emotional, Romantic identification with nature bubbling up in the most dispassionate and aloof of photographic styles.

Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., B-3, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Jan. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.craigkrullgallery.com

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