Review: Landscape offers rich vein for Gallery X

Published in the New Bedford Standard-Times, July 19, 2012

Van Gogh's swirling sky in "The Starry Night." Bierstadt's sweeping mountain vistas. Monet's Japanese bridge arching over a pond of water lilies. Name art history's most beloved paintings, and you will find that many of them are landscapes.

Why does the landscape as a subject continue to inspire both artist and viewer? Perhaps because it can evoke our favorite memories, of a cherished childhood playground or a special vacation spot. Maybe we're drawn to the symbolism of landscape, its potential to represent our shifting moods and emotions, from dark storms to bright skies. But most likely we are drawn to the landscape in art because it's so versatile. Views of nature offer something for everyone, every taste and every approach.

This variety and range can be found in "Field of Schemes: An Exhibition of Landscapes," now on display at New Bedford's Gallery X. The artworks here include textiles, collages, photographs, and three-dimensional pieces, as well as paintings in acrylic, oil and watercolor. There are beach scenes, cityscapes, forest views, and interpretations of open water and sky.

The exhibit was juried by Fairhaven painter Sig Haines, known for his colorful coastline scenes and a professor emeritus of UMass Dartmouth.

Some of these artists offer uncommon perspectives on familiar views. The long and narrow format of "Buttonwood Pond," Nik Ukleja's oil painting on wood, gives a vertical slice of the scene, from the overhanging branches to the lilypads on the water to the shore where the viewer is standing. In Stephen Remick's black-and-white acrylic painting "Field Through Trees," we glimpse a sunny open space from the safety of a shady wood.

In Randy Swann's panoramic "Uptown," picturing a row of office buildings edged with strips of roadway and dotted with trees, the city seems complex and magical despite its hometown feel.

Other artists employ unique application techniques. Diane Cournoyer's gliding palette-knife gestures in "Lakeside Dance" suggest a gentle breeze playing through the forest. In "The Dunes of Rose and Emerald," where a man ambles past flowering patches of shoreline with his dog at his side, Milton Brightman applies oil paint in tiny, precise swirls. Susan Gilmore layers thick, glistening passages of bright blue, green and orange oil paint to portray interlocking swaths of land and water in "Cedar Island Mark's Cove."

Certain of the artists here tell a story, inviting us to imagine the narratives within their images. Kim Gatesman composes her oil painting "Rocky Beach 019" with dark boulders, stormy cloud cover and churning waves. Cynthia Getchell's pastel, "Golden," highlights Mother Nature's skills as a colorist, with a vibrant field of goldenrod blooming in front of a grove of purple trees. Pam Rainey's oil painting, "Secret on the Wareham River," depicts an oasis, a cozy cabin nestled in the woods that beckons to the viewer from across the water.

The landscape theme takes a turn for the dramatic with "Wraths of Earth," a solo show of new paintings by Nilsa Garcia-Rey in the Douglass Gallery, Gallery X's downstairs exhibition space. Garcia-Rey portrays an apocalyptic world torn apart by nature's fury, in the form of tornadoes, tidal waves and forest fires. The only physical evidence that humans ever existed here is the occasional overturned car or twisted fence.

One of the most energetic canvases in the show is "Wall of Water," a horizontal rush of wavelike blue stripes that swallows up the tiny rows of houses and parked cars in its path. Garcia-Rey's technique of adhering roughly pleated fabric to the surface before painting creates a three-dimensional texture that enhances the sense of unstoppable force.

Garcia-Rey further enforces an air of mayhem by using shaped canvases with jagged or undulating edges. The scale of her paintings, some more than 7 feet high, contributes to the overwhelming sensation of chaos and desperation. There is a note of warning and even destiny in these scenes. The artist seems to be alerting us to life's unpredictability by reminding us of the destructive side of nature's beauty.

Garcia-Rey also exhibits grouped studies depicting swirls of energy, in a variety of media including torn-edged paper collages and charcoal works on paper. These additions lend a deeper meaning to the show, and reveal the artist's thoughtful and thorough approach to her subject matter.