There’s the way things look from afar, and then there’s the way things look up close. From afar, a mountain might look like a mammoth, solid, singular object, miles wide and thousands of feet high. But up close, on a hiking trail perhaps, a mountain is many things: rocks, dirt, plants, trees. Similarly, a human body seems solid, but under a microscope, it’s made of tiny cells. And under a stronger microscope, it’s made of molecules and atoms.
The closer you look at something, the more it seems to drift apart. The inverse principle is fundamental to art-making: the idea that well-placed graphite lines, charcoal marks, or dollops of paint can, from the right distance, be made to resemble a cohesive image.
The way the eye responds differently to an artwork from different distances—across the gallery, a comfortable medium distance, and with the nose up against it—is one of the great pleasures of viewing art, and artists have long explored disparities in these perceptions. (The works of Claude Monet are an easy, well-known example.)
From across Reno’s Metro Gallery, Horizons in Translation, by Wisconsin-based artist Tim Abel, seems to evoke a distant landscape running the course of the gallery’s curved walls. From a medium distance, it’s a loose, abstract composition of colors and shapes—predominately brownish red circles. Up close, it’s a series of fragments of paper, many of them hand-painted, all of them meticulously stitched together.
“It’s called Horizons in Translation because I wanted to treat the gallery as a horizon line itself, since the gallery was curved, kind of like a landscape,” says Abel.
The primary recurring component of the installation is a small red circle, about three inches in diameter. There are also larger, moon-like white-and-blue orbs and other shapes and patterns. Many of the smaller pieces have been painted on—peace signs, smiley faces, spiders and eyes. These circles have been painted by local children, though carefully arranged so the imagery is smoothly incorporated into the larger composition.
“I wanted to draw in language that was specific to Reno, so I hooked up with the University of Nevada, Reno’s early learning center,” says Abel. “They participated by creating over a hundred of the smaller circles, which I incorporated into it the installation.”
The installation is site-specific, created specifically to respond to the curved walls in the gallery outside Reno’s City Council chamber. Abel arranged the many fragments of paper in direct response to the space.
“I love working in fragments,” he says. “It speaks to the way I think about layers, and my own personal fragmented view of things. I don’t really know exactly how it’s going to turn out until I start intuitively putting it together.”
He wanted the artwork to evoke a horizon line, but he wanted that horizon to be specific to Northern Nevada, and the horizons here are very different than in his native Midwest.
“My sense of a horizon is really locked into the idea of Lake Michigan,” he says. “The colors are really foreign to me. I usually work colors that are more like blues and whites and grays. I really wanted to expand my idea of color and landscape, so I looked at colors specific to Reno geologically.”
That’s where he found the recurring brownish red color, and the shape was also specifically chosen for the gallery.
“I love the idea of a circle,” he says. “It’s such a complete shape, and it calls back to the idea of a globe or a point. And the gallery itself is a half circle, and I liked playing with that fragment of a circle, and these pieces that were based in a circle.”
Coincidentally, a circle almost the same size and shape appears in the pattern in the carpet throughout the gallery.
“I loved that,” says Abel. “That was an added bonus. It’s really great. … There are all these interesting echoes that go past the wall itself.”