Art is more than just pretty pictures. It is as much concerned with the inspiration and execution behind a piece as it is about physical representation. “Landscape and the Natural Order,” a new exhibit at Wriston Art Center, makes this statement abundantly clear.Consisting of pieces on loan from a private commercial gallery in Chicago, “Landscape and the Natural Order” has a pleasantly deceptive title. Though one might imagine paintings of rolling hills and sweeping fields, the show instead deals with the work of four German-born contemporary artists and their individual representations of natural and physical places, using an array of individual approaches and rather interesting materials.
All of the pieces are conceptual, and all are abstract. As Wriston Art Center Curator Frank Lewis explains: “The exhibit’s loose theme of ‘Landscape in the Natural Order’ isn’t about people painting pictures of landscapes. It’s about the meaning or feelings behind the work rather than the images involved.”
The minimalist movement of the early 1960s had a profound effect on the world of art and a detectable influence in the works of the four artists on display. Abstract to the extreme in idea and in execution, minimalism was an art movement concerned with essence and viewer participation. “The minimalists felt that conventional works of art had subjects so complex they overwhelmed the viewer. They wanted to narrow the subject matter down and express the idea that art can exist outside of simple optical experience,” says Lewis.
Also central to the main theme of the exhibit are the individual artists’ ideas and the various techniques through which they are realized on canvas. The work of artist Mario Reis quite literally captures nature through his attempts to depict it. Reis places his primed canvases in rivers and streams, allowing riverbed silt and other sediments to collect upon them.
“Reis is interesting because he plays with symmetry in the arrangement of his work and is interested in the aesthetic results, but ultimately, he doesn’t have his hand in what he is trying to produce,” adds Lewis. Thus far, Reis has created art from a river or stream in every state of the union.
Ulli Rooney, another artist whose work is on display, strives to capture the essence of the natural world with his palette of glowing oil colors. By mixing oil paint and medium to produce a nearly transparent glaze of glowing color, Rooney creates large canvas block paintings that are almost Rothko-esque in style and function. Though not representative of specific objects, his work has strong correlatives in nature. “As we look at Rooney’s work, we can see how carefully his colors change. Our eyes are constantly adjusting, and we see a drama unfolding inside the piece,” says Lewis.
In large panels of seemingly transparent shades of white, the work of Udo Noger emerges. Noger’s technique is that of optical illusion, combined with a structural integrity based on the interplay of shadow and light. Noger begins by constructing a square canvas framework, and adding interesting shapes made of wood and styrofoam. After stretching canvas over the frame, Noger loads it with transparent veils of white, adding coats of paint that integrate the structural design beneath the canvas’s surface with the painting itself, allowing the actual framework of the piece to become part of the art.
“In Noger’s work, we experience the painting’s depth. If you get too close to the work, your eye makes the shape disappear, and as you move away, you start seeing ghost-like whispers of paint emerging through one layer into another,” explains Lewis.
In contrast with Noger’s canvases of melting figures and calm color, the work of Brigitte Riesebrodt combines intense hues, bits of wire, and scribbles of charcoal and graphite with a more traditional form of collage. Instead of canvas, Riesebrodt recycles and paints upon old U.S. mailbags. Her surfaces are rough and weathered, and her style reflects Picasso’s influence in the world of art.
“Riesebrodt works with the layering and unveiling of glazes and is concerned with catching the light. Her surfaces are much rougher, with an almost grainy quality, for a strong but subtle effect,” says Lewis.
“Landscape and the Natural Order” is a show stunning in its simplicity and unique in the philosophy it expresses. It’s not your run-of-the-mill central Wisconsin art display (there are no Terry Redlins), and that’s only one of the reasons to check it out. It’s not art for art’s sake, but rather a different spin and a refreshing view on the conceptions of nature and of place presented by four very talented individuals.
The show opens Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. and runs through March 17 at Wriston Art Center.