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OPEN13 TEXTS

Julia Romano: Landscape Studies by Kayung Lai

Julia Romano's Landscape Studies investigates the pictorial possibilities of the Picturesque by digitally combining eighteenth century European landscape paintings with photographs of rural South America. As a result, her work is an exploration of the vast cultural influence the Picturesque aesthetic has had upon framing the land.
The Picturesque came to the forefront of Enlightenment thought towards the end of the eighteenth century. William Gilpin in particular championed the Picturesque in the many guidebooks he published. As a result many tourists began to view the landscape through Gilpin's pictorial prism. He established the Picturesque as a third space between the aesthetic trends known as the Beautiful and the Sublime. For Gilpin, the Picturesque was a pictorial strategy employed by the artist to evoke curiosity within the viewer, a strategy Romano directly references in her landscapes through the appropriation of archetypal Picturesque paintings.
A common characteristic of Picturesque paintings was the use of overgrown foliage in the foreground which visually obscured the middle ground in order to inspire curiosity within the viewer. Romano effectively references this strategy of generating curiosity through obscurity throughout her work. For instance she appropriates the towering trees from Carlos De Haes's painting: Un molino de Beaufort in the foreground of her Landscape Studies De Haes/Villa Warcalde. Within the foreground these towering trees diverge away, revealing to the viewer the middle ground where a white winding river recedes into a hazy, pastel backdrop. De Haes's trees fringe the winding contour of the white river, but as the river recedes in to the distance it becomes clear that the trees are in fact taken from photographs. In one sense, Romano extends Gilpin's pursuit for curiosity, as the intersections between the photographic and the painterly are not always apparent. This element of curiosity is reinforced through Romano's use of Carlos De Haes's landscapes, which were famed during the nineteenth century for their realism. This doubling of pictorial and photographic realism within her work generates a viewing experience where the viewer is left to decide where to draw the line between the pictorial and the photographic.
Another visual strategy for generating curiosity within the Picturesque was to feature a winding contour within the middle ground such as a path or river. This winding contour diminishes towards a vanishing point in order to create perspective within a scene that would otherwise lack the visual cues necessary for generating scale and perspective. For Gilpin this method for generating perspective was seen as an illusion whereby the viewer is situated so as to be looking out towards a distant world, which is ironic considering that Romano's images are actually created from two distinct representations of the world.
Romano's landscape studies are effective in addressing how the Picturesque is ingrained in our cultural consciousness. Her landscape studies reveal how the Picturesque as a pictorial strategy dominates representations of the land. Moreover she addresses the continuation of the Picturesque aesthetic in contemporary photographic landscapes and the way in which this tradition attempts to inspire specific emotional responses to the land.