"Sierra's sunsets invert order for fresh view"
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, August 18, 1995
By: Joan Altabe, Art Critic
Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I found you-a painting of sundown that doesn't look like every other painting on the subject-"Florida Sunset" by Paul Sierra.
Sierra's version shows the sun in reflection on the earth, as if it had erupted from there, rather than from the sky. He achieved this by using sea grasses for his ground so that their spikes-lit by the setting sun-appear as rays bursting in the air.
Sierra's sky, in contrast, is dark as soil, full with thunderheads that resemble mountainous terrain. So what you get is the world with its shapes and shadows in opposite formation: the earth above and the sky below.
What's the good of showing the sky and earth in reverse order, you may ask? What's the good of showing a world with a sun coming from beneath your feet rather than over your head?
The answer is the attention such a reverse order prompts. Seeing a familiar thing in a fresh way, inviting a second look, a closer look at an accustomed world, steps up one's awareness of it.
Rembrandt did this a lot. In "The Mill," he presented a windmill silhouetted against a darkening sky, its arms reflecting the last rays of sunlight. The whole of the twilight experience spins on the arms of those arms. They hold you to the spot, compelling you to focus on the waning light.
Sierra paints in the Rembrandt tradition. The whole of his recent work is celebration of light, the kind you don't have to look up to see, but rather the kind reflected on the earth, just before it fades from view.
So, while, say, Sierra's, "Never Ending" describes rushing river water dashing against stone, and while a fading sun is seen only in a small corner of the work, it's really a portrait of dusk. The dwindling light of day rivets the eye the way logs glowing in a fireplace rivet.
Perhaps the most original sunset painting in Sierra's collection is "Tightrope" in which a figure, arms outstretched, walks a tightrope that stretches over an inky countryside. The figure also is in shade except for a blush of sunlight that catches its outline. By that small glimmer on what is otherwise a figure painting, Sierra demonstrates the glory of a setting sun.
You should see this.
©1995 Sarasota Herald-Tribune & Joan Altabe