Editor's note: The Gibbes Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library for the following article and two essays. We wish to extend our appreciation to Kelly A. Linton of the Gibbes Museum of Art for assistance in gathering these texts. The essays were published on October 25, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of the Gibbes Museum of Art. Images from the catalogue were not included with this reprinting of the essays. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, or wish to purchase a copy of the exhibition catalogue, please contact the Gibbes Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Framing a Vision: Landscapes by Linda Fantuzzo and Manning Williams

October 10, 2004 - January 2, 2005

 

The Gibbes Museum of Art opened the exhibition Framing a Vision: Landscapes by Linda Fantuzzo and Manning Williams on October 10, 2004. Featuring artists of the Lowcountry region who have both trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and achieved acclaim on the national scene, this dynamic exhibition examines the relevance of landscape painting in contemporary culture, and more specifically the use of that genre to represent personal and public visions of the Lowcountry. Framing a Vision: Landscapes by Linda Fantuzzo and Manning Williams will be on view in the Main Gallery of the Gibbes Museum of Art through January 2, 2005.

Linda Fantuzzo (American. b. 1950) and Manning Williams (American. b.1939), both Charleston artists boasting successful, prolific careers, cross paths in their academic training and preference for landscape as subject matter. Differing greatly in their choice of media and stylistic approaches, Fantuzzo and Williams come together with a shared high level of skill that reflects parallels in their strong classical training and enduring romance with landscape.

Framing a Vision: Landscapes by Linda Fantuzzo and Manning Williams features approximately forty works that showcase the artists' different approaches to rendering Lowcountry terrain and atmosphere, as well as the sensations and stories contained therein. This exhibition is the first show at the Gibbes co-curated by the Museum's Executive Director Betsy Fleming and Chief Curator Angela Mack.

"While both artists have been featured in numerous solo exhibitions and general group shows, this exhibition presents the first opportunity to examine the ties, as professional colleagues and friends, between Fantuzzo and Williams," explains Executive Director Betsy Fleming. "Having known each other at the Pennsylvania Academy, painted en plein air together, and encouraged as well as critiqued each other's work in Charleston for the past thirty years, the artists' landscapes represent absolutely unique perspectives but also capture universal experiences within the Lowcountry landscape. The paintings will stir the soul and mind of anyone who loves the land."

Framing a Vision: Landscapes by Linda Fantuzzo and Manning Williamsis on view in the Main Gallery of the Museum. This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of an anonymous donor and Kiawah Development Partners.

Following are essays concerning each of the artists from the exhibition's catalogue:

 

Linda Fantuzzo

By Elizabeth A. Fleming

 

At age twelve, Linda Fantuzzo received her first set of oil paints from Aunt Jane. During her early years of studying art in the public school system of Endicott, New York, Fantuzzo describes her interest in literally transcribing the subjects discovered in the poetry and novels of English class into painted images. In fact, the first work she recalls creating is a giant, oversized portrait with sad, dark eyes inspired by the poem "Evangeline" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Similarly stirred by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a large, dramatic painting, thirty-six inches square, of two immense, awkward heads followed. When Fantuzzo brought both paintings home, her father questioned edgily "Who are these people!" [1]

 

Pictures Within Pictures

For the ensuing forty years, despite having studied at the classical Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and having created in the company of Manning Williams for approximately thirty years, Fantuzzo has refrained from painting people. Such inanimate objects as a deck prism, a bottle, a lantern, pieces of crystal and shale, binoculars, dead butterflies and a tulip stem are her means of populating a space. According to Fantuzzo, the items are "important, in what they are, what life they had, what they bring to me." [2] Each object has its own history, simultaneously intimate, familiar, universal, but of no particular place or period. Prism and Tulip, 2004 is a literal still life that renders objects found in Fantuzzo's studio (figure 1). As a work of still life, this painting describes the spatial relationships between the objects and particularly the effect of light, shadow and placement in delineating perspective and depth. Geometric shapes are her essential tools for building the composition. This picture, therefore, literally contains a landscape painting and distinct geometrically-shaped forms, while also offering a subjective exploration of geography, especially how one element persuasively placed and rendered may lead a viewer further into the picture plane.

Sometime between 1977 and 1979, during her early years in Charleston, Fantuzzo became deeply focused on still-life painting. That intensity eventually drew her into the landscape. "I was so overwhelmed by the kind of concentration, the sort of intellectuality that was taking place when setting things up, and the landscape painting meant total freedom to me . . . [it] was a way to abandon all the rules and just to work." Fantuzzo's ventures outside the studio were hardly self-directed. In fact, it was Manning Williams, whom she considers her most important mentor and influence, who lured her out-of-doors, saying, "Let's go out and just paint pictures of the landscape. Don't try to make art, just start painting."[3] As Williams would stand in the middle of the marsh, knee-deep in pluff mud, with the wind blowing and his voice roaring, Fantuzzo would select a cool, shady spot, patiently awaiting a breeze and meticulously identifying a small detail of the view to capture in paint. A ready reference, which, to this day, remains in her landscape kit, was a gift from Manning, a small catalogue of paintings by Edwin Dickinson (1891-1978) that immediately inspires a focus on first impressions, loose brushstrokes and painterly freedom.

Created during such outdoor ventures are Fantuzzo's numerous small, quick landscapes on board, measuring five, ten or twelve inches square, including The Lock, 1992 and an eight-by-sixteen inch version of Within the Ruins, 1998 (figure 2). Apparent in these immediate oil studies is Fantuzzo's precise positioning that enables her to construct a landscape vision in a manner very similar to her still-life compositions. In the mid-to-late 1970s, Fantuzzo worked with the house-painting firm, Manning Williams and Company, and as a sign painter with Terry Sign Company in order to support her studio. As a commercial painter, Fantuzzo earned the nickname "Linda Winda" because of her ability to cut a straight edge around a window with great speed and accuracy. [4] This interest in windows certainly connects to her meticulous way of seeing and rendering still life, but has likewise followed her into the landscape. Such paintings as Within the Ruins, 1998 and Interior Light, 2001(figure 3), contain precisely cut windows and thruways. These architectural constructions are significant formal devices for providing depth, varying space and/or surface, introducing light and studying shadow. Additionally, the depicted ruins with windows intimate the picturesque landscape tradition of the nineteenth-century America.

While certainly conveying a sense of presence within the landscape, Fantuzzo's pictures within pictures suggest distance. She is an intuitive witness, not an active participant. Recently, her windows have evolved into abstract, even fuzzy framing elements. The works, Soft Window, 2003 and Dark Frame, 2003, demonstrate a softening of her sharp focus in rendering such tactile elements as the frame and marshland in the distance. While formal geometric elements continue to delineate space in these more abstract works, her early literalism gives way to a more subjective, emotive interpretation of seeing and experiencing nature.

 

Pathways

In Fantuzzo's Open Window of 1991, a canister propped on the exterior ledge rests gently against the right window, as if quietly forcing it open. With the window ajar, a soft exterior light seeps into the room, onto the interior window ledge. This interior infiltration creates a path for a viewer to move beyond the interior space. Open Window, 1991 could serve as a metaphor for Fantuzzo's painting of landscape. Something outside herself and her studio, the light, the insistence of Manning Williams, the freedom of space, drew her beyond the studio window and into landscape. Similarly, pathways in her paintings entreaty viewers not only to move through the window, but deep within the Lowcountry terrain she depicts.

Fantuzzo's use of such stylistic conventions as paths, including stairways, roads and waterways that lead from foreground into background, flat horizon lines and single vanishing points certainly draws directly from the nineteenth-century tradition of landscape painting. Her works are, however, uniquely picturesque in the frequent use of manmade elements, but not Man himself, to establish scale and to initiate one's journey into the landscape. Positioned on the edge of a cliff or possibly an abandoned fortress, a staircase rises through the center of the dry-brush drawing Ascension, 1998, leading to what appears an overgrown terrace of land (figure 4). Foreboding yet engaging, the romantic image entices one through the familiar, if decayed, architectural elements and onto the unfamiliar natural platform in the distance.

The waterway is Fantuzzo's most frequently employed representational device for progressing into the depth of landscape. While many of her small oil sketches need that manmade element to mediate between studio and natural expanse, her large-scale landscape paintings, for example Soft Marsh Grass, 2004, Evening at Cougar Island, 2000 and X Marsh, 2004 (figure 5), have abandoned the docks, locks and stairways and, instead, rush a viewer at full force into the textures, atmosphere, warm light and flat distance of the coastal Lowcountry. Similar in construction, these significant paintings feature a stream that touches the bottom edge of the canvas and advances, with various calculated turns, through the picture plane. Geometry, particularly the triangle, plays an important role in realizing the deep geography of the space and assuring a universal appeal. Fantuzzo considers the work of George Inness (1825-1894) as an inspiration for the large landscapes created in the studio. She claims: "Like Inness, I like to use my memory of a place. It is more than identifying a locale. It's more about the feeling that was experienced there, more about a kind of spirit that existed there at the moment, at the time, and then it's also about the abstract qualities . . .finding those squares, those triangles."[5]

In the creation of such recent works as Soft Marsh Grass, 2004 and X Marsh, 2004, Fantuzzo continually negotiates specific and general, representational and abstract. The aim is to render a subjective interpretation of the experience of nature. The resulting work is formally composed, yet emanates a sensation of freedom; appears informed and in step with tradition, yet refreshingly original. It is evident that the actual waterways of the Lowcountry provide Fantuzzo, as initially guided by Williams, with a pathway to rendering a universal landscape. It is fitting that such a vision be drawn out of the South -- that place in the United States with such longstanding cultural, emotional and economic ties to the land.


Notes:

1. Linda Fantuzzo, interview with Elizabeth A. Fleming, Charleston, SC 4 August 2004.

2. Ibid.

3. Fantuzzo's recollections on composition as well as how and why she began painting the landscape are discussed extensively in Fantuzzo, interview with Fleming, 4 August 2004.

4. Fantuzzo, interview with Fleming, 4 August 2004.

5. Ibid.

 

Manning Williams

By Angela D. Mack

 

Manning Williams communicates the same passionate conviction about his work today, as at the start of his career over forty years ago. He admits that in Charleston in the 1960s professional support for his early career decisions was meager. "Charleston didn't have many artists when I went to school, maybe twenty professionals."[1] But that did not deter him from forging a path that has brought him acclaim as South Carolina's best-known contemporary landscape and history painter. [2]

 

Figures Within Settings

At age sixty-five, Williams's style has come full circle. After attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he embraced modernist concepts and created bold, expressive abstract paintings like On Alice LeMacks's Canvas, 1969 (figure 6), which are reminiscent of Arthur Dove (1880-1946) and Hans Hofmann (1880-1966). However, at a time when abstract expressionism enjoyed wider public acceptance, Williams abandoned abstraction and returned to a conservative historical manner indicative of his classical training. This coincided with the decision, after his fourth year at the Academy, to move back to Charleston rather than pursue a career in New York City. Williams admits that the primary motivation for the move back to Charleston was his wife's new position as political reporter for The Evening Post (now The Post and Courier). [3] However, his Scarlet O'Hara-like attachment to his birthplace has fostered a body of work unparalleled in the State. Williams finds inspiration in the history, traditions and terrain of the Lowcountry and his landscapes suggest a profound level of Southern consciousness that, on occasion, make lifelong residents feel like outsiders. Initially plagued by self-doubt as to how his work would "stand up in the rest of the country," Williams recollects that he reached a place in his career where he could "paint things [he was] compelled to paint," instead of worrying about the national scene and the critics. [4]

For Williams, his need to tell a story compels him to paint. Gregarious, opinionated and never short on words, his early attraction to the written word as an English and history major at the College of Charleston, gave way to visual expression. An example is the monochromatic, acrylic and charcoal on paper entitled Sunday in the Marsh, ca. 1980, which stems from an incident that occurred near Williams's home. He describes an encounter with police when he and his wife, Barbara, returned home. "Everywhere there were police cars and policemen with guns drawn and after a few minutes this young guy in overalls stood up from amidst the water reeds with his arms outstretched. The scene stayed with me, and later I had to draw it."[5] Williams admits to poetic license by replacing the "young guy" with an old man to accentuate his helplessness. Similarly the painting entitled Burn Off, 1987, stems from an actual event. Williams uses the episode to draw attention to those unchecked, overwhelming powers, both natural and manmade, that plague rural life. Dejection emanates from the slump-shouldered solitary figure as he passively walks away from the destruction that engulfs the horizon.

Contemplative, isolated figures within settings, real or imaginary, describe the majority of Williams's landscapes. Unlike his close friend and occasional painting partner, Linda Fantuzzo, who refrains from painting people, Williams cannot separate the human element from his scenes. Even when figures are not actually depicted as in Texas Gas Station, 1981 or marginally depicted as in Piggly Wiggly Trucks, 1999 (figure 7), the setting suggests their presence. Occasionally, the reverse is true as with James Island, 1977, in which Williams paints a sea island near Charleston that for some time has experienced unchecked urban sprawl. Ironically, by depicting James Island as an idyllic retreat, Williams draws attention to its plight (figure 8).

Williams does not shy away from controversy or from voicing unpopular opinions through his art. "Artists can be full of passion and rage. But it's important to never loose sight of the big picture and only express how you feel at the moment. Look at Goya. He used his art to express his anger. But over time, those images have become so important and have gone beyond the moment."[6] Williams's desire to stay focused on the "big picture" has prompted his career-long fascination with the history of warfare. In his many depictions of World War II fighter pilots, Civil War battles and Desert Storm soldiers, he interjects the impassive observer in a floating canoe accentuating the difference between the chaos of actual battle and listening or watching reported accounts. The dichotomy represents Williams's inner conflict. "I should have been a real soldier and gone to war."[7] Instead, to understand better his own visual expressions, he has participated in Civil War reenactments for almost two decades. For Williams, Confederate history is personal. "Three of [my ancestors] were at Gettysburg; one was wounded and later died, and two were killed outright. I have strong feelings about that." Sherman's March, 1990, is an expression of those feelings as well as Williams's internal conflict about fighting (figure 9). The contemporary landscape setting introduces the element of irony that is at the core of Williams's work.

 

Inner Vision

Williams is best known for his large-scale, carefully rendered representational art, like the series of lowcountry scenes commissioned in 1985 by the Charleston County Aviation Authority for installation at Charleston's International Airport. Yet during the past thirty years he never has abandoned completely the forms found in his early abstract painting, On Alice Lemacks's Canvas, 1969. The progression of rectangles created by the series of parked trucks in New Jersey Trucks, 1982 (figure 10) or the angular lines that exist as a result of strong light and dark contrasts in Shirt, 1985, demonstrate an ongoing interest in abstracted form. Both paintings incorporate large rectangular blocks of color positioned in tandem with sharply drawn angles signaling the complete abandonment of representational imagery in Industrial Dreams, 2001 (figure 11). In this painting Williams adopts an energetic -- verging on frenetic -- approach to his application of pigment. While remaining true to his pure clear palette, this energy suggests an inner vision freed from the constraints of representation.

What is surprising about Williams's works of the past few years is his reliance on comic strip design to maintain his narrative. Williams credits the students he taught at the College of Charleston in the 1990s for drawing his attention to the cartoon as a source of inspiration. "It was at a time when comics were becoming more than just a kid's pastime and my students wanted to learn how to make them. I loved them as a kid, but I didn't know anything about creating them because they were not considered fine art."[8] Using comics as a source for composition appeals to Williams's underlying irreverence for the hierarchy of art. "[Comic strips] are much more dynamic than most artists will admit. If you turn them upside down, you start seeing all of that energy and the way they're moving."[9] For an artist of Williams's experience and stature, organizing his images into a sequence of frames and maintaining the bubbles that are ubiquitous in cartoons for both spoken and unspoken words, might be viewed by some critics as somewhat gimmicky. He is quick to retort that some cartoonists would view what he does as disrespectful to their form of art. "[But] cartoons are supposed to be disrespectful. They are supposed to take the stuffy, locked up mind and open it up a little."[10]

Williams's more recent abstractions rely less on the obvious design conventions of comic strips and more on an inner personal vocabulary of forms and symbols that are intended to convey the narrative. Bold, black undulating lines separate colors and draw attention to specific areas of intense action within the setting. While jarring to many of Williams's longtime patrons, these works suggest an unlocked vision that transcends time and place but continue to tell a story.

 

Notes:

1. Manning Williams, interview with Beth Petty, Charleston, SC, 22 July 2004, and Angela D. Mack, Charleston, SC, 29 July 2004.

2. Philip Livingston, "Manning Williams," Legends Magazine, 1991, pps. 88-92.

3. Williams's recollections about his life and career are discussed in depth in Williams, interview with Beth Petty, Charleston, SC, 22 July 2004.

4. Ibid.

5. Williams, interview with Angela D. Mack, Charleston, SC, 29 July 2004.

6. Williams, interview with Beth Petty, Charleston, SC, 22 July 2004.

7. Williams, interview with Angela D. Mack, Charleston, SC, 29 July 2004.

8. Williams, interview with Beth Petty, Charleston, SC, 22 July 2004.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

 

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