Josephine Halvorson’s communion with nature

Josephine Halvorson, Former Corner Marker, 2017. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Contributed by Kari Adelaide Razdow / Now on view as part of the deCordova Museum’s “Visionary New England” exhibition, Josephine Halvorson’s lyrical yet meticulous oil paintings employ no masquerade of myth. Rather, they are documentations of nature that meld history, self, and place. Her intense practice centers on painting chosen subjects, such as a fallen tree surrounded by leaves, in the woods near her home in western Massachusetts, always on a one-to-one scale. That process is deliberate and disciplined. She starts with an amplified dialogue of sorts with the natural world, absorbing it as she sets up her easel. Then she takes tight possession of time, finishing each canvas in a single outdoor sitting. While the duration of her painting sessions varies, she reaches closure by walking away, never resuming a given painting.

Josephine Halvorson, Juncture, 2017. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Halvorson’s attention to the earth and what it hosts is heightened and sustained, traversing the boundary between oneself and one’s environment so as to achieve a fusion of interior and exterior realms. Her work authentically captures what is in her sightline, bringing to mind the reflections of poet Lorine Niedecker on human self-sufficiency versus the limits imposed by nature: “Fog – thick morning – I see only where I now walk. I carry my clarity with me.”

Josephine Halvorson, Permit, 2017, oil on linen, 21 x 23 inches, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Halvorson’s forest-born clarity and highly attuned mode of seeing convey stillness and give off calm and enduring sensations of acceptance, while provoking questions about life cycles and their possible echoes in the present day. What is next for the fallen birch tree, and how long will the tree, now decomposing, nourish the lichen on its bark? What can be inferred from defunct signage on a slab of wood? Metaphorically, what is next for us ourselves? Halvorson’s work enables the viewer to perceive the cycles that proceed in the wilderness that might otherwise be unnoticed. In her intimate but circumscribed exchanges with nature, she commits to the primacy of what she encounters for as long she feels is required, inviting daydream and mystery that extend beyond ordinary, fleeting impressions.

Visionary New England,” curated by Sarah Montross. Artists include: Gayleen Aiken, Caleb Charland, Anna Craycroft, Angela Dufresne, Sam Durant, Erin Johnson, Josephine Halvorson, Paul Laffoley, Michael Madore, Candice Lin, Tourmaline, and Kim Weston. The deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, MA. Through March 14, 2020. Catalogue available.

About the Author: Kari Adelaide Razdow curates independently at The Sphinx Northeast, an itinerant curatorial project. Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, BOMB, NYLON, Huffington Post, the Walker Art Center Blog, Eyes Towards the Dove, and elsewhere.

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