Images Clockwise from left: “Mountain of the Holy Cross,” Thomas Moran (1890); “Aspen Trees,” Gordon Brown (2007); “Ruins of Central City,” Vance Kirkland (1935); “Autumn Eve, Buckley Lake,” John Encinias (2007)
“Topography in art is valueless,” said Thomas Moran, a landscape painter who specialized in the West. “I place no value upon literal transcripts from Nature. My general scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are toward idealization.”
Moran is included in “Masterpieces of Colorado Landscape: A Rich Legacy of Landscape Painting,” which opened at the Center of Southwest Studies on Feb. 25.
Well, it partially opened. The show was conceived to include more than 60 works of art, but only 40 are on display in Durango, which is unfortunate. Works on loan from the El Pomar collection and the Denver Public Library collection are missing.
In “Colorado Landscape,” curator Rose Glaser Frederick brings together works by late 19th and early 20th-century artists, combined with the work of 16 living artists: Clyde Aspevig, Joe Arnold, Gordon Brown, Len Chmiel, Mark Daily, Joellyn T. Duesberry, John Encinias, Tracy Felix, Chuck Forsman, Ned Jacob, Karen Kitchel, Michael J. Lynch, Jim Morgan, Daniel Sprick, Don Stinson and M.W. Skip Whitcomb.
Frederick suggests that the exhibit begins with Moran’s “Mountain of the Holy Cross” (1890) hung at the left of the first gallery and that following the paintings clockwise through time, viewers will end with Vance Kirkland’s “Ruins of Central City” (1935). The second gallery should display all of the contemporary work alphabetically by artist. However, the work is not hung chronologically or alphabetically.
The Moran clearly is a masterpiece. The granite mountain, with its cross-shaped crevices in which snow accumulates, rises from a mist of clouds. The waterfall in the foreground is an imaginary feature that Moran added to the composition and does not exist in nature. It also is a historically significant painting.
This painting was instrumental (along with the photographs of William Henry Jackson) in convincing Congress to preserve Yellowstone as a National Park, launching the progress vs. preservation battle that has shaped the American West.
“In the 19th and 20th centuries, landscape painting went from ‘photographing’ scenes to advertising to creating art based on the land,” Frederick wrote in an e-mail this week.
“Today, landscape painting is about expressing concerns as well as awe. It’s about conservation. Most importantly, it’s about helping viewers see,” she said.
Frederick selected contemporary artists who help the viewer see more than just the land.
“I feel that landscape is often overlooked for the latest fad in art, and, conversely, since a lot of people like to paint landscape, there is much that is not worthy of a show,” Frederick wrote.
She chose contemporary masterpieces to show the evolution of landscape painting, taking the viewer from what it was to what it is, skipping all of the “isms” of the mid- to late- 20th century.
I found all of the contemporary work impressive, but here are a few of my favorites:
Encinias’ “Autumn Eve, Berkeley Lake,” captures the quiet feeling of being alone in nature, surrounded by the bustle of the city. The fading light and the fading season seem to reach out from this beautifully executed painting.
Brown’s “Aspen Trees” are twisted and nearly abstracted. The artist seems focused on the layers of botanical life at the base of the trees, the place the light touches and the depths it cannot reach.
Felix’s “Twin Peaks,” a painting of two blue-green mountains draped in snow and clouds. For me, this work expresses the jovial emotion of an amusement park. This landscape is one of pleasure and enjoyment.
For Kirkland, who completes Frederick’s 20th century selections, design was more important than subject.
“I had to change nature in order to be more concerned with the importance of the painting, rather than the importance of the landscape,” Kirkland wrote, echoing Moran.
This is the difference between a masterpiece and a just another landscape painting. A masterpiece doesn’t only capture the beautiful scenery; it manipulates nature until the viewer’s reaction is not realizable only as an experience, but as something more.
If you go:
“Masterpieces of Colorado Landscape” will be at the Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, through April 22. Contact Interim Director & Curator Jeanne Brako, 247-7494. The show will move to the Foothills Art Center in Golden, from May 12-July 8; Western Colorado Center for the Arts in Grand Junction from July 28-Sept. 23; Fremont Center for the Arts in Cañon City, Nov. 9-Dec. 15; El Pomar Carriage Museum in Colorado Springs, Dec. 22-Jan. 31; Denver Public Library, Feb. 4 – May 31.
email@example.comLeanne Goebel is a freelance writer who specializes in the visual arts.
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"Masterpieces of Colorado Landscape" will be at the Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, through April 22. Contact Interim Director & Curator Jeanne Brako, 247-7494. The show will move to the Foothills Art Center in Golden, from May 12-July 8; Western Colorado Center for the Arts in Grand Junction from July 28-Sept. 23; Fremont Center for the Arts in Cañon City, Nov. 9-Dec. 15; El Pomar Carriage Museum in Colorado Springs, Dec. 22-Jan. 31; Denver Public Library, Feb. 4 – May 31.