Sara Caracristi at Katzman Art Projects, Halifax

By Jon Claytor

There is a distinctly post-COVID feel to Sara Caracristi’s new paintings at Katzman Art Projects. It’s that feeling of stepping back into the world with quiet trepidation and relief. Previously, the Halifax-based artist painted busy scenes, seen from above, of people criss-crossing urban squares, each individual casting a noticeable shadow on an otherwise barren environment. In her new work, the crowds have disappeared and the non-descript squares have been replaced with the glimmering greens, sparkling blues, and effervescent lavenders of a more natural world – landscapes not untouched by civilization, but not completely paved-over either. They are the places we ventured to during lockdowns when we wanted to commune with nature and still be safe, simple places that weren’t too far from home, but also not too full of people: a patch of grass on the edge of a parking lot, a waterway sneaking through the city, a greenhouse after hours, a secret pool….

Sara Caracristi, Golden Hour, 2024, acrylic and polyurethene on canvas over board

Caracristi has painted these scenes with an emphasis on the natural. We interlopers (sometimes a small gathering, but seldom more than one or two) visit like unexpected guests. Unlike her previous work, there are no strangers here, yet these particular characters are less grounded. They cast only the smallest shadows. They are outlined with unnatural pinks or light greens in contrast to the landscape, as if the people have been cut out and collaged into the paintings. It is as if they are simply travelers passing through the landscape – here for a minute and then gone. Even the most tender and important moments can disappear in an instant. Are they also forgotten by the sun and the grass and the rain?

Sara Caracristi, Garden Tour, 2024, acrylic and polyurethene on canvas over board

Garden Tour best represents this feeling of transience. We see from a distance a sun-kissed lawn surrounded by deep green foliage. Long shadows stretch across the grass as a lawn tractor drives through. The driver is pointing up into the trees to show the child riding beside them something in the distance. Unlike most of paintings in this exhibition, these two riders cast a shadow, but it is not enough to make their presence seem anything other than transitory. The emphasis on the landscape is so strong that we can feel it pushing back against any attempt to control it, as if each blade of grass and tree leaf is confident that the world of soil and flora is stronger than that of humans and cities. In the write up for the show, Caracristi states, “…the landscape becomes a silent witness to the lives that once inhabited it.” I wonder, if it is so silent, how long will it remember these strange visitors?

Sara Caracristi, Tailgating, 2024, acrylic and polyurethene on canvas over board

The intersection of nature and humanity is felt in all of the works. Looking at images of couples crossing landscapes and small, intimate gatherings of friends meeting in serene locations, I couldn’t help but remember that feeling of re-entering the world after the lockdowns, that feeling of testing the waters, of rediscovering friendships and favourite landscapes. Collectively, our relationship to nature changed profoundly (if only for a moment). No painting in this show sums up that feeling more for me than Tailgating. Three grey-haired seniors sit on lawn chairs at the edge of a parking lot with only one car in it. Palm trees and fresh-cut grass take up most of the image, and in the distance is a rainbow. Or is it the arch of a stadium? Half green and half grey, this could be any parking lot in Florida or California. As a painting, it’s a sublime moment of quiet friendship and wonder that captures the feeling of gathering again after the worst of COVID in small groups waiting timidly for the next catastrophe. The artist’s way of capturing these scenes from a distance makes me feel that we are a very small part of something very big.

Caracristi writes, “Whether it is through daily routines, leisure activities, or significant life events, we create links with these spaces that convert anonymous space into a place, creating memories that become a part of our own personal history and identity.” These paintings are full of allusions to just those sorts of personal histories. And although they are strangers and unknown moments to most viewers, it is easy to feel the weight of personal memory with which the artist has imbued her canvases. However, what moves me most is the tenuously temporal quality of these moments, and how the landscape outweighs the figures, surrounds and overpowers them, almost eats them up and swallows them whole. It is a humbling notion – that life is fleeting and eventually everything will be forgotten except what the earth remembers.

Sara Caracristi: Figures in the Landscape, A Collection of Memories continues until June 8.
Katzman Art Projects:
The gallery is partially accessible.

Jon Claytor is an artist living and working in Sackville, New Brunswick.