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The Grand View: Bierstadt to Brophy
The upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Northwest Art, on view from January 10 - April 4, 2004, will challenge conventional notions about how Northwesterners have viewed the landscape during the past 150 years. Drawn from work in regional collections, The Grand View: Bierstadt to Brophy explores a broad spectrum of Northwest landscape imagery by 15 artists born between 1830 and 1960. Artworks run the gamut from Albert Bierstadt's sublime visions of the new frontier to quirky, cryptic contemporary interpretations.
Most of the 19th and 20th century painters including Albert Bierstadt, Abby Williams Hill, and Yvonne Twining Humber ventured out into the landscape and painted what they saw, albeit filtered through their individual sensibilities. Bierstadt's panoramic paintings, extremely popular during his lifetime, depicted dramatic and sublime Northwest vistas, some painted well before he actually visited the region. Unusually independent for her time, pioneer artist Abby Hill, painted rugged scenes throughout the Northwest on commission for the railways who wished to encourage settlement in the region. Humber, a Seattle resident, received early national recognition for her realist landscapes and still remains active in her nineties.
The contemporary artists in the exhibition, painters Victoria Adams and Michael Brophy with sculptor Steve Jensen, do not set out to recreate specific landscapes but make use of landscape-related elements and themes to address 21st century concerns. Adams paints the essence of our lands and skies, distilled from memory, photographs and imagination. She wants the viewer to simply experience their presence and their silence. Brophy refuses to sanitize or romanticize what he observes. His work conveys the tension when nature and human endeavor meet, playing up the drama of one environment replacing another. Jensen uses the detritus of the forests, naturally felled logs, to create totems.
Albert Bierstadt (1830 -1902), a renowned painter of the Hudson River School, began painting the Northwest landscape some 10 years before he actually visited it. His sublime panoramas, executed with an acute sense of the operatic and romantic, were immensely popular but, despite his early success, Bierstadt died in relative obscurity. In this exhibition are paintings from 1872 and c. 1880s from the collections of the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, and the Rainier Club, Seattle.
Cleveland Rockwell (1837 - 1907) was a mapmaker for the Union Army in the Civil War, after which he made a brief mapping tour of South America before settling in Portland, Oregon. He conducted surveys in Alaska, British Columbia, California and Oregon. Rockwell's background in mapping and surveying clearly influenced his work. His luminous watercolors show extraordinary accuracy of light, color, and documentary detail. Two paintings from 1889 and 1891 are shown in The Grand View.
A bit later, in Portland, Eliza Barchus (1857 - 1959) was supporting her family through her painting. To ensure adequate inventory for her flourishing tourist sales, Barchus would produce standard sizes of Northwest scenery in assembly-line fashion, working on ten or more paintings of a scene at the same time. She also began a lucrative picture post card business. Her subjects were the geologic formations of the region: Mount Hood; Mount Rainier; Mount St. Helens and Crater Lake. In the 1930s, 50 years and thousands of paintings later, she put down her palette and brushes. Two large paintings from the Whatcom Museum of History and Art collection are part of this exhibition.
Each summer in the early 1900s, Tacoma painter Abby Williams Hill (1861 - 1943) would pack up her four children, her tents and her paints and head for the wilderness. Her broad vista landscapes, commissioned by the Great Northern Railroad were enticing advertisements for land the railroad had for sale. Many of these commissions wound up in the collection of the University of Puget Sound which has loaned a selection for this show.
Charles Heaney (1897 - 1981) worked part-time as a jewelry engraver to support his art career. He explored the vast desert country of eastern Oregon, Utah and Nevada, absorbing the terrain and studying desert plants, fossils, and the geologic underpinnings of rock formations. Heaney had a prodigious memory for images and often painted places he had visited years before. Like his friend and fellow artist C.S. Price, Heaney portrayed, in the vastness of his Oregon landscapes, a place where one could discover spiritual truths. His almost sculptural style of painting mountains-another of Price's influences-conveys their massiveness and power. Mount Hood, 1938, from the Portland Art Museum is in The Grand View.
Yvonne Twining Humber (born 1907) studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York and participated in the WPA Federal Art Project in Boston. In 1943 she relocated to Seattle, bringing with her a sophisticated approach to urban regionalism that was a sharp contrast to the dominant Northwest School. She became president of the Women Painters of Washington in 1945 and had a solo show at the Seattle Art Museum in 1946. Characterized as a "hard edged regionalist," Humber was one of only a handful of Seattle painters in this period to exhibit in major national shows. She still remains active at age 96.
Victoria Adams (b. 1950) paints the essence of the lands and sky we think of as the Northwest. Her landscapes are conjured up from many actual views, from memory and from imagination. She edits, modifies and recombines these elements subjectively. The images-made up of clouds, weather systems, long horizons, grids of trees, vast expanses of space and time, and the atmospheres of light-show not the realism of photographs but views that are distilled and concentrated. The artist hopes they invite us simply to experience their presence and their silence.
Michael Brophy (b. 1960) has lived in Oregon most of his life. His Northwest landscapes convey the tension when nature and human endeavor meet. "I'm not interested in a romanticized or sanitized vision of nature," he says, "but one in which the marks of civilization are given their due." With Curtain and Tree Opera I, Brophy is playing up the drama of one environment replacing another-reminding us that 150 years ago, the region was mostly a raw forest. With Peoples View Brophy shows his ability to deal with serious subjects in a humorous way. "I'm really a city guy in nature," Brophy says. "I like the idea of nature on the edge with people pressing against it."
James Lavadour (b.1951) lives on the Umatilla Reservation in northeastern Oregon. When creating landscapes, he applies thin layers of mineral-colored paint, dry and wet, to wood panels and then rubs and scrapes to bring forth such images as rock faces engulfed in a rain squall or a sweeping brush fire. "My object has been to display the occurrence of landscape inherent in the act of painting," Lavadour writes. "In paint there is hydrology, erosion, mass gravity, mineral deposits, etc.; in me there is fire, energy, force, movement, dimension, and reflective awareness."
For the past twenty-five years Seattle sculptor Steve Jensen
(b. 1955) has developed a body of work derived from his experiences and
the landscapes he encounters. The experiences encompass both his heritage
and a broader contemporary circumstance. The landscape is our seas, waterways,
forests and mountains. The abundant beauty of the world's available natural
resources and the precariousness of the relationship we maintain with them
inspire Jensen. All wood used in his sculpture is naturally felled. No living
tree has been cut for Jensen's poles, ranging from eight to 20 feet in height.
The artist comes from a long tradition of Norwegian fishermen and boat builders.
The tools he uses have been passed from his grandfather to his father to
him. The craftsmanship of Jensen's work speaks to the universality and timelessness
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