Palm Springs Desert Museum

Palm Springs, CA



American Landscape: Karen Kitchel and Merrill Mahaffey


The Palm Springs Desert Museum will present the work of two artists in a new exhibition, "American Landscape: Karen Kitchel and Merrill Mahaffey." The exhibition opens March 29, 2000 and will be on view through August 13, 2000.

The paintings of these two artists reveal different, but equally powerful, approaches in their compelling portrayal of the American landscape.

Karen Kitchel's paintings represent two bodies of work, "American Grasslands" and "Home on the Range," which reveal a watchful and respectful examination of the landscape. Her paintings speak to an ecological age when the meaning of landscape is largely affected by the culture that inhabits it.

Karen Kitchel's work examines attitudes about landscape painting while illustrating the visual appearance of the land. Native plant species, engineered cash crops, pampered ornamentals, proud chamber-of-commerce panoramas and weary industrial zones are all subjects that equally attract Kitchel. "These are not the singular vistas of traditional landscape painting. Here, the land is seen through time," says Kitchel.

In the series of large oil paintings entitled "Home, Home on the Range: not the same old song," compelling scenes from man's activities over time are superimposed over landscapes depicted as a natural paradise, suggestively full of promise and untouched by human hands. The superimposed scenes of urban congestion and pollution, suburban comfort and conformity, and the fascination of the freeway depict the relationship between people and the land. In addition to the visual juxtapositions, a phrase from the song titles each painting and stimulates the viewers' personal memories.

In Kitchel's second series in this exhibition, "American Grasslands: Prairie, Pasture, Crop, and Lawn" she has rejected the idea of merely creating scenic paintings, preferring to portray nature as "living landscapes" of elemental forces evolving over a period of time. By focusing on something as ordinary as patches of grasses, Kitchel makes it clear that her paintings are concerned with something beyond the embodiment of pure aesthetic pleasure. (left: Karen Kitchel (b. 1957), American Grasslands: Prairie, Pasture, Crop, and Lawn, © 1999, oil on wood, 12 of 100, 12 x 12 inches each, Courtesy of the artist)

The grass paintings evoke the relationship between continuity and disruption, growth and limits. She speaks often of wanting to express how the land appears through the passage of time and her desire to depict stages of growth and use. From the seedling crop, to the lush lawns, to the dry and yellowed grasses, she provides a truthful account of nature within her personal vision. Her "American Grasslands" series includes 50 one-foot-square meticulously painted micro views of various grasses that are grouped together in a wall-sized installation. (right: Karen Kitchel (b. 1957), Lawn #23, 1999, oil on wood, 12 x 12 inches)

A resident of Denver, Colorado, Kitchel received her Masters of Fine Art from the Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, California. She received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kitchel's work has been exhibited extensively throughout the western United States.

In contrast to the micro view of Kitchel's grassland paintings, Merrill Mahaffey's grand, panoramic landscapes respond to the 19th century American landscape tradition of the sublime. "Nature is an art inspiration, not about beauty - it is about truth and reality," explains Mahaffey. His subjects typify the enormous scale of western canyons and expansive vistas. (left: Merrill Mahaffey, Holgate Bay, 1997, acrylic on canvas, 32 x 48 inches, Courtesy MacLaren/Markowitz Gallery, Boulder, CO)

Merrill Mahaffey's work conveys his lingering attraction for the monumental scale of geological formations of the American Southwest and his preference to grand scenery where land and water meet abruptly. His paintings cover dramatic landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California.

His landscapes reveal his interest in pure painting and in the effects of ever-present challenge of continuous and erratic change. He condenses the movement of light and strives for a visual harmony of its play on geological features. The ripples, striations and fissures in the stone are painted in an unemotional and definite manner. Transient weather, regardless of its subtlety, tends to imply mood. (right: Merrill Mahaffey, National Canyon Narrow, 1993, watercolor on paper, 40 x 30 inches, Courtesy of the artist.)

Merrill Mahaffey received his B.A. from Sacramento State University and his M.F.A. from Arizona State University. He resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His works are in numerous museums throughout the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

While this exhibition presents the work of two artists, it comprises four separate galleries, two will be devoted to each artist's work. "Visitors will be able to observe each artist's paintings independently from the other's and, in so doing, experience their respective statements about landscape wholly within their own context." said Katherine Hough, director of collections/exhibitions for the Palm Springs Desert Museum.

This exhibition was organized the Palm Springs Desert Museum and funded by the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation and the Museum's Western Art Council.

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