Tony Winters’ Desert River/ City River, a solo exhibition of oil paintings, is currently on view at Monorchid’s main gallery space. Hailing from New York, Winters’ has created a series of magical landscapes, connected by their attention to one of the Valley’s most valuable natural resources – water. In depicting Phoenix’s watershed, rivers, reservoirs, lakes, canals, and even swimming pools, we are given the space to consider the deep, indigenous history of this land and raise questions about how it will evolve into the future.
In several paintings, the bright blue of a chlorine-saturated swimming pool sits in stark contrast to its natural surroundings – a high rise of stacked grey boulders, lush palm trees, or a sunset-hued mountain range. Maybe I was influenced by summer’s sweltering heat, but I found these luxurious oases to be the most conceptually striking. In each there is a lone figure floating or standing, possibly contemplating the sublimity of her surroundings. In my mind I replaced the figure in the painting with myself, raising questions about what it means for the roughly 4.3 million of us to be living in this half natural, half man-made landscape in the middle of the Sonoran desert.
In other paintings, Winters’ highlights the beauty inherent in these bodies of blue as they slither through deep red backdrops. As someone who grew up accustom to water only meeting the blue of the sky, these scenes of lakes confronting stiff canyon walls will always be breath taking. Intermittently placed throughout the more majestic scenes are eerily desolate canals and frugal streams as they flow beneath concrete overpasses. Post apocalyptic in tone, I can’t help but be reminded of the harsh realities surrounding our use of water in a city that in theory shouldn’t be able to exist.
Many of the paintings are no larger than an iPhone, the same device that we might reach to for a snapshot of these landscapes. Through Winters’ scaling down of these monumental places, we are allowed to disconnect – in more ways than one – from how we normally experience them. It’s in this zooming out that we are allowed to reflect more acutely on their importance.
As these paintings lack a well-defined present, they are free to sit somewhere between their past and their future. It’s in their uncertainty of whether to advance or retreat that calls the viewer to sit with each a little longer. By inviting us to these destinations with him, Winters’ highlights their unique personalities, and stirs up feelings of appreciation and protectiveness in us.
The closing reception for Desert River/ City River will be held at Monorchid on Third Friday, June 17th from 6-10pm. The exhibition will be on display through June 26th.