In the late 1960's Neil Jenney moved out his acclaimed series of Bad paintings, acknowledging that "idealism is unavoidable," and began his shift toward the highly detailed, meticulously rendered North America series. The present example from 1978-90 belongs to this long series of paintings, the first of which is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
For more than a decade, Jenney was absorbed with this series that captured the landscape and sky with breathtaking realism. As the series evolved, Jenney's emphasis on landscape shifted upward to the atmosphere. In the present painting, Jenney rotates his perspective heavenward, and carefully renders the remains of a delicate, blushing sunset. The composition is almost all sky, with but a single cactus to imply the great western landscape. We long for more than just this slip of the disappearing sky that we strain to see through the narrow frame-as-window. While the realism of the ethereal imagery transports us, the commanding presence of the frame and heavy bold letters of the title anchor us to the reality that this is painting. In the artist's own words:
I am not trying to duplicate something that I see in nature because you must always compromise - it is always going to be paint, you cannot out paint the paint. I was not trying to disguise the fact that these are paintings. I was not trying to mimic photographs. I never wanted to avoid the realization that I was using paint; in fact, I wanted to emphasize it.
Realism is illusionism and all illusionistic painting requires frames. At first, I did not realize the crucial factor that frames can play in the illusion. The frame is the foreground and it simply enhances the illusion - it makes the illusion more functional. I designed and built the frames to suit the paintings - I realized that the frames would enhance the illusion and be a perfect place to put the title. (Quoted in M.Rosenthal, Neil Jenney: Painting and Sculpture 1967-1980, University Art Museum, Berkeley, 1981, p. 49)