The Natural Disorder of Things
Observations on the Work of Doug Huston and George Liebert

Sally Alatalo, 2008

Baby. Everybody knows this is nowhere. Doug Huston and George Liebert are having a conversation. It's “music night,” a term they've devised for a back-and-forth, give-and-take, sometimes one-upmanship, of rock and roll. Their mutual love for and deep knowledge of the music, the songs, the versions, the covers, the origins, the rich layers of interpretation and tonal nuance, easily slip into their visual art. Layers cross, blur, influence, reiterate.

Walk a mile in my shoes. George recognizes possibility in a page of his sketchbook, scans it, prints a few copies, and returns the prints to his brush; like the underlying, unspoken connective tissue of an evening's play list, the print provides occasion for paintings to take form. Doug uses a digital scanner like a paintbrush, enacts a painter's gestures, and captures a syncopated passage to create a frazzled ground.

These days. One might not think of the traditions of representation of landscape when looking at either the work of D or G, though it's a shared root. But here and now, nature's all fucked up. Grey highways replace amber waves of grain. Video screens are windows. A cougar stumbles into a Chicago neighborhood and is lethally gunned down as if a criminal. Huston figures he saw the same cougar one afternoon while walking through the forest preserve behind his studio. He yearns for the wonder of this encounter to be ordinary, for the fascination of the unbuilt wild. So he plots a collaboration, conspiring with birds, insects, trees, or even ice, to fabricate and lend their frenetic traces, which he duly collects, chronicles and represents.

D's studio bookcase sags with encyclopedias of “picturesque America” and the natural world. Their engraved lines, and how they accumulate into a picture of a stag or a felled tree, are not unlike the halftone dots of a TV Guide, or a billboard, or the pixels of a computer screen. It's essentially about how a technology meets and scribes an image. D has a penchant for messing with both the conventions of seeing, and with the optical interfaces we take for granted. The indeterminate, alien backgrounds of his most recent pictures are created by dance-like interventions with a scanner. Likewise, the familiar, yet unearthly, silhouettes of a deer or rabbit are really just digital traces of light, ghosts of some past encounter with a wild so hindered, we doubt whether it's actually ever been. As viewers we find ourselves behind the wheel, staring through a confused mist with the same blind-sided, stunned gaze that's facing us.

Whispering pines. At first glance, George's natural history looks less sinister. He routinely paints en plein air. A pop landscape of shapes and colors seduces our attention from a coded inference of discontent. An amalgam of an ordinary, lived moment, G's personal psychic iconography gets scrambled with his astute observation and keen intellect. Two places he loves and retreats to--Mexico and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan--symbolically delimit the glut of stuff that finds its way into his pictures. Sex, death, rock-and-roll, cowboy movies, family, politics, and natural history coalesce into a Time's Square of second-by-second signification. The Searchers gets equal billing with a memory of his father. Alfred Jarry's Pere Ubu appears as a sidekick clue to the proposition that the Bush dynasty might be a contemporary, parallel parody. But ultimately, the complexity and chaos of subject and object provides fodder for G's essential, painterly concerns with foreground and background.

The sun medley. At the time of this writing, D and G were just beginning another kind of medley, a visual back-and-forth, give-and-take, maybe one-upmanship, of print, paint, gesture, image. As with their play lists, a sense of loss and redemption cycles through the work, anticipating the train, train, rollin' round the bend. Train, train, rollin' round, round the bend.

Play list song citations include:

Baby,
Os Mutantes (1999)
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, (1969); Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet (2006)
Walk a Mile in my Shoes, Joe South (ca. 1970); Jimmy Lafave (2007)
These Days, Githead (2007)
Whispering Pines, Colin Linden (2004)
The Sun Medley, Delbert McClinton (1993)