Exploring Visual Arts across Madison
Sep 24, 2013
Natural Selections at the James Watrous Gallery
If the intriguing, complex and constant relationship between humans and nature is a theme that emerged in the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, it’s a topic that’s pushed even further at the James Watrous Gallery.
Inhabited Landscapes, running through October 27, showcases paintings, drawings, photographs and prints from seven Wisconsin artists, each of whom uses a “visual language to create a personal interpretation of our place in nature.”
A bold oil painting by Charles Munch opens the show. “Paradise Valley” features a woman sitting under a bare tree, while a dog lies nearby. A nude man pets a horse in this scene that reads utopic but with a slightly sad or foreboding undercurrent.
Cathy Martin’s four brilliantly colored and incredibly detailed oil on Masonite works showcase the landscape in an even more ideal light. In her paintings, Wisconsin’s rolling hills and green meadows dotted with tiny cows are a lush paradise.
A sense of wonder and an appreciation for the natural world permeate “Of Heaven and Earth,” an oil on linen work by David Lenz. In this large painting, a girl holds a glowing object in her hand while a fantastic meteor shower plays out in the sky behind her, which takes up most of the composition. The artist aptly states, “We all bound to each other and to this spinning world.”
Two artists raise questions about human’s placement in nature. One of Tom Uttech’s paintings—“nin gaskanas” featuring a bear standing in a forest while snowflakes swirl through the air—startles the viewer. With the bear set squarely in the center of the composition and staring directly at you, it feels like you’ve stumbled upon this wild creature in the wilderness and you may not be safe.
And in a pair of inkjet prints by John Miller, a man carries a canoe through a forest and two men launch a boat into a lake. In both works, which feature thick black outlines and vibrant color, you don’t even notice the humans at first; the patterns of nature take precedence. States the artist: “I’m fascinated by the complexity of the natural world and the underlying order that hints at pattern but never reaches the level of mechanical precision so often built into human structures.”
Dennis Nechvatal takes pattern practically to its limit with “Meditative Zone,” a new acrylic on panel painting. A scene of bushes, trees and a brook is lush and rhythmic thanks to the abundance of leaves. And a color palette of green and blue is offset with a few pink, yellow and purple flowers in the foreground.
And color—specifically, an exquisite golden light—is a hallmark of “Waiting,” one of two oval-shaped oil on panel works by Barry Roal Carlsen. Thanks to the light, the scene of a car parked between two houses feels specific in time yet comfortingly familiar.
By offering up seven different artists, each with a distinct style and personal perspective, Inhabited Landscapes presents a variety of views on nature—and encourages viewers to contemplate their own.
Inhabited Landscapes runs through October 27 at the James Watrous Gallery. For more information, visit wisconsinacademy.org.
Photos courtesy of the James Watrous Gallery.