Whitney Bedford is a conceptual landscape painter. Her constant traveling, love of flora and fauna, and use of a visible horizon line have directed her work. She originally painted seascapes but now landscapes, painted on wood panels, are her primary subject, but they show nature imaginatively abstracted.
Bedford received her B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2003, she received her M.F.A. from the University of California Los Angeles, after having spent two years on a Fulbright studying architecture in Berlin. To keep her skills honed, she draws a portrait of a woman every day.
Bedford’s early paintings consisted of shipwrecks, icebergs, rainforests, lightning strikes, and fireworks in works that represented the natural world. Appropriation of works by artists such as John Constable, Theodore Gericault, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Gauguin, Milton Avery, and Charles Burchfield are the foundations of the paintings she makes, which portray the deteriorating natural world in which we live.
One example is her taking a monumental painting by Bonnard and reshaping it four times into four different paintings. Each work refers to a different time of day and is reflected in a shifting palette of color.
Drawing on her years of architectural training Bedford thinks of her paintings as a grid. For her early paintings, she would draw a meticulous seascape and pictures of ships. But then she would erase part of her work and fill it in with sensuous swoops of paint which “sinks the image . . . I take away form and replace it with emotion and palette.” Her scenes always had a distinct horizon line. Her subject matter of steam, smoke, water, and air began as an abstraction, and she often left a slip of sunlight reflected at the horizon line on the edge of the ocean.
In her later paintings she appropriates historical landscape paintings of late nineteenth and early twentieth century artists. But her works are haunting, post-pastoral landscapes in the age of the Anthropocene. She critiques traditional landscape tradition with our own impoverished reality. She conjures these landscapes through the use of frenzied lines and day-glo hues. She always starts with a drawing but then puts the monochromatic, silhouetted images of trees, shrubs, or flowers in the extreme foreground. The pastoral scenes are pushed behind these images as the landscape image is painted behind the plane of the painting. Thus, there is a plane between the viewer and the objects in the background. It is as if the viewer is seeing indoors and outdoors at the same time. The zone at the bottom of the canvas is often painted in a single unshadowed opaque color and serves as a kind of floor plane.
Her most recent series of landscape paintings, “Veduta,” combines interpretations of sublime paintings of past pastoral landscapes with carefully drawn cacti, succulents, and other dry-climate flora. The title “Veduta” comes from the term applied to a landscape that is topographical, naturalistic, imaginary or romanticized and exists before industrialization and environmental degradation.
Her “Veduta” paintings have a layered structure. Straight, monochromatic lines divide the canvas into three or four zones of different size to imply an interior space with one or two corners. She transforms traditional landscape imagery by painting mountains and valleys as silhouetted images. Trees and shrubs are made by crisp, linear markings. Her stylized landscape art makes for a vibrant but disquieting rendition of traditional landscape painting.
Her work is in permanent collections in museums in Paris and Brussels as well as in Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, Mexico City’s Jumex Collection, London’s Saatchi Gallery and others.