Sam Falls Unites Art, Nature In Series 49

Whether it’s a truck rusting in the sun or dusted palm fronds, artist Sam Falls integrates
the environment into his work.

“Project
Series 49: Sam Falls,” an exhibition on display in Pomona College’s Museum of Art (PCMA) since Sept. 2, focuses on the effects of decomposition and deterioration on the environment. The exhibition combines natural and manmade materials to explore the
relationship between reality and perception, through the eyes of Falls. 

PCMA Senior Curator and Sam Falls Curator Rebecca McGrew saw huge
potential in Falls’ approach when compiling this year’s series. He is
internationally recognized for his nuanced photography, sculptures and
paintings.

“Sam Falls’ work was brought to my
attention a couple years ago,” McGrew said. “I had a studio visit with him where I was
most impressed with the originality of his work and the rigor of his process.”

The Project Series focuses on showcasing work
from emerging or under-represented Southern California artists. The work in these series is often bold
and experimental, bringing artistic forms to campus that may be
difficult to find elsewhere. McGrew and Falls decided that the truck and
plant pieces would be the best ones to exhibition at Pomona, in part because of
the college’s long-standing tradition of practicing sustainability.

The series also encourages artists
to engage with students and faculty. Falls gave a lecture on his work and a
tour of his studio in the city of Pomona to third- and fourth-year art students on Sept. 9. Falls discussed his
works, all of which feature organic materials, such as rain and palm fronds.

One such organic method Falls uses is “sun printing,” where he places
an object on top of a canvas and leaves it out in the sun. When the object is
removed, its shape remains on the faded cloth. He uses a similar approach in
his “rain prints,” which involves arranging fronds, sprinkling powder on top and letting it
sit for months.         

Art
major Joel Freeman PO ’16 attended the talk with several other classmates.

“Falls
explained a lot about his process,” Freeman said. “He removes himself from his art
and puts a lot of thinking into his work.”

Falls talked at length about entropy and how it relates to an ever-changing environment.
His “bell project,” which was not in the exhibition, involved hanging bells on
trees in various California national parks. As the weather and climate changed,
the chime of the bells changed, too.

“It
shows how things respond to the environment, and some things rust and decay and
change, like the truck,” Freeman said. 

Unfortunately,
art that features natural elements isn’t self-sustaining. Jacky Tran PO ’16, an
art and geology double major, said that museums reject such work simply because
it won’t last long enough for display. But for Tran, Falls’ pieces are
“meant to return back to nature, to decompose over time.” The disintegration is
part of the natural process reflected in the artwork.

Art
history major Benjamin Kersten PO ’15 also appreciates Falls’ incorporation of
the natural world.

“He
lets nature take over and create the images, which is rather beautiful
considering how much tampering with nature we, as human beings, have done,” Kersten said.

Similar to students at the Claremont Colleges, Falls has a liberal arts background with his B.A. from Reed College. Tran sees an underlying reflection of Falls’ education in his work but does not see it as inaccessible.  Falls’ artistic process is also reflective of
someone with an academic background, according to Kersten.

The
Project Series at Pomona College, then, is an excellent place to showcase this
unique art and methodology.

“[The Project] enhances the Museum’s role
as a laboratory for exploring innovative, cross‑disciplinary
collaborations and ideas [and] to serve as a catalyst for new knowledge,” McGrew said. 

“Project Series 49: Sam Falls” will be on display at PCMA until Dec. 19. 

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