The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 3rd floor North, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)
Now through February 22, 2015
Tom Uttech, Nind Awatchige, 2003, oil on canvas, 112 1/2 x 122 1/2 x 2 1/2 in., New Orleans Museum of Art: Museum Purchase, the James and Maya Brace Fund, 2004.29, © Tom Uttech. Image courtesy New Orleans Museum of Art
Birds have long been a source of mystery and awe. Today, a growing desire to meaningfully connect with the natural world has fostered a resurgence of popular interest in the winged creatures that surround us daily. The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art examines mankind’s relationship to birds and the natural world through the eyes of twelve major contemporary American artists, including David Beck, Rachel Berwick, Lorna Bieber, Barbara Bosworth, Joann Brennan, Petah Coyne, Walton Ford, Paula McCartney, James Prosek, Laurel Roth Hope, Fred Tomaselli, and Tom Uttech.
The presentation of “The Singing and the Silence” coincides with two significant environmental anniversaries—the extinction of the passenger pigeon in 1914 and the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964—events which highlight mankind’s journey from conquest of the land to conservation of it. Although human activity has affected many species, birds in particular embody these competing impulses. Inspired by the confluence of these events, the exhibition explores how artists working today use avian imagery to meaningfully connect with the natural world, among other themes.While artists have historically created images of birds for the purposes of scientific inquiry, taxonomy or spiritual symbolism, the artists featured in The Singing and the Silence instead share a common interest in birds as allegories for our own earthbound existence. The 46 artworks on display consider themes such as contemporary culture’s evolving relationship with the natural world, the steady rise in environmental consciousness, and the rituals of birding. The exhibition’s title is drawn from the poem “The Bird at Dawn” by Harold Monro.
Rachel Berwick’s large-scale, mixed-media installation, “Blueshift,” will be on public display for the first time as part of the exhibition, as will a temporary, site-specific mural James Prosek has created for the exhibition’s gallery space. A behind-the-scenes time-lapse video of the installation of this mural is available on the museum’s YouTube channel. Artworks by each artist can be viewed in our online gallery.
The exhibition is organized by Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.
Credit: The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Rollin W. King, The Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, Caroline Niemczyk, Debbie Frank Petersen, Rosemary L. Ripley, Holly and Nick Ruffin and the C.K. Williams Foundation.
Tom Uttech’s compelling 2010 painting NIGANADIKIMOWININI (907) recently became available. This oil on linen painting measures 37×45 inches and is beautifully finished with the artist’s hand painted frame. The intricately painted, covert creatures are inscrutable and serene: mysterious qualities Uttech conveys conclusively.
By Randall Berndt
In his seminal book on landscape painting, Kenneth Clark writes that “we are surrounded with things which we have not made and which have a life and structure different from our own: trees, flowers, grasses, hills, clouds. For centuries they have inspired us with curiosity and awe. They have been objects of delight. We have recreated them in our imaginations to reflect our moods.”
And eminent art historian, Clark examined and wrote much about historic landscape painting styles. An Englishman with an orderly mind, Clark devised a few classifications for these styles—“the landscape of symbols,” “the landscape of fact,” and “the landscape of fantasy”—that he hoped would shed light on to what uses landscape imagery has been put over the ages.
Clark wrote that already by the 15th and 16th centuries artists had moved beyond symbolic landscapes drawn from Christian philosophy and into realism. At the time, a burgeoning merchant class fueled the craze for realist landscape painting with expressive compositions and strong contrasts of light and color.
But artists like Albrecht Altdorfer and Hieronymus Bosch felt that landscape art had become too tame and domesticated. They set about exploring the mysterious and the un-subdued, giving birth to a style that we today think of as Expressionist Art. For Clark, more recent expressionists like Vincent van Gogh, Max Ernst, and even Walt Disney exemplify this spirit of using landscape forms to express a range of emotions—disquiet and wonderment among them.
So it was that James Watrous Gallery director Martha Glowacki and I had for some time discussed the idea of curating an exhibition of Wisconsin painters who are landscape expressionists of different kinds. The artists we brought together for our recent Inhabited Landscapes exhibition (click here to see a slideshow of the images from this exhibition) may not easily fall into any of Kenneth Clark’s classifications, but they all adventure beyond mere topographical rendering. Martha and I as curators wanted to play with the idea of landscape art being “inhabited” by artists’ subjective states—mood, memory, dreams—as well as their ideas. The artists included in this exhibition all use their own visual language to create personal visions, unique ways of imbuing the natural world with meaning.
TOM UTTECH, NIN GASKANSAS (958), Oil on Linen, 49 1/2 x 53″ framed
Tom Uttech’s art is literally inhabited by memory. Uttech is passionate about spending time in the woods, leaving behind his everyday life to wander and look. His depictions of a radically wild Northwoods—northern Wisconsin and up into Minnesota and Canada—are not painted out of doors in a specific place (that is, he does not take his paint and brushes there). Rather, Uttech absorbs the atmosphere, the texture, and the light. He then returns to his studio to make paintings without preparatory drawings direct on the canvas, finding the shapes of wildness from memory. Working this way results in more powerful images, he says, eliciting more drama and connection with the mysterious moods of a fictional but naturally convincing wild place than would be possible by sitting outside and copying a tree.
Uttech grew up near Wausau, and he has spoken of a childhood visual epiphany, a magically pure event: the startlingly vivid appearance of a redwing blackbird flying above a green hay field. This memory of a colorful, natural otherness is emblematic of his life as an artist, where his love of bird life—as well as the other creatures of the Northwoods—helps Uttech transform them into messengers of the mystery of wildness. This is a world that humans cannot manufacture, and Uttech puts no human figures in his paintings because he wants to make space for the viewer to enter the painted landscape. Using Ojibwe (Anishinabe) words for his painting titles, Uttech immerses his art in the ancient life of places that have no names.
Much of John Miller’s art also comes from Northwoods wilderness areas. He has spent time as an artist in residence on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale, absorbing the spirit of that special place. Where Uttech paints in a style that is lush and romantic, with echoes of the 19th century Hudson River School, Miller has developed a system of signs to describe the essence of natural forms. Miller’s work as a graphic artist has schooled him in the power of design, and some of his paintings share elements of Japanese woodblock prints. Nature speaks through his artist’s shorthand to translate the landscape’s infinite variety into patterns, texture, and color that resonate with the ancient energies of rocks, trees, and water. The message is a visual ordering that transforms what might look like randomness into an exquisite, perfectly natural orderliness. With his art Miller is our intrepid guide to those wild places he knows; we can trek into the woods or ride along in his canoe.
Charles Munch’s paintings—like Miller’s—make a virtue of simplification. He has over the years developed a highly personal visual vocabulary of flat color pattern and stylized form that projects feeling and mood. Early in his career, Munch painted in a representational style using illusionist space and traditional figure anatomy. By the early 1980s he felt the need to make his work more emotional and expressionistic, closer to what was going on in his personal life. Munch began searching for a formal system that would allow his personality to inhabit his art. Color and a distinct geometry of landscape forms came together to merge feeling and description. Munch is a consummate colorist, using color in his work to create space and light and tune each painting to sing in its own key. Each painting is a unique adventure in design, encapsulating sometimes-dramatic and sometimes-subtle action. His narrative themes, often presented in ambiguous or mysterious imagery, nevertheless speak clearly of his concerns about the “civilizing” tendencies of humans and their destructive effects on the natural environment. This worry, however, is tempered and redeemed by his art’s luminous celebration of life.
Dennis Nechvatal’s art is the product of the artist’s deep immersion in a private world of landscape meaning. He became enchanted with nature during his youth growing up in Lancaster, Wisconsin, in the 1950s. Nechvatal experienced bucolic boyhood days: riding his bike over the rolling sun-dappled roads, fishing pole over his shoulder, and lounging for hours in the shady thickets on the banks of a trout stream. Many years later, Nechvatal has arrived at an art language that celebrates natural forms in what at first appears an idiosyncratic and primitive style. Only by surrendering to the emotional logic of Nechvatal’s busy world of color and design can one visit his delightful wonderland. Like other artists in this exhibition, Nechvatal is a close reader of art history and theories of perception. The result is the transformation of an everyday view of landscape into an alternative reality where feverish concentration on detail, a sharply focused definition of otherwise soft forms, and sparkling color beguile the eye and lure viewers into this green space humming with nature’s secrets. In Nechvatal’s world, the trees, flowers, and rocks can become figurative elements—energetic primal effigies promoting affection, awe, and maybe a little fear as to what surprises nature has to offer us.
Living on Madison’s east side, Barry Carlsen has found some of his landscape subject matter in his neighborhood’s backyards and bike paths. He has always been interested in the ways that nature coexists with built environments. Carlsen grew up in Omaha where he became intrigued with old industrial warehouse architecture. His family vacationed in northern Minnesota, where he was also imprinted early on with the magic of the water and the woods, the campfire, and the muskie lurking in the lily pads. Memory is embedded in all his painted landscapes whether urban or Northwoods, and familial narratives are at home in both places. The search for an emotional home gives his work physical shape, and luminosity brings it to life, animating his visual autobiography. Carlsen has said that he uses light as a unifying element in his paintings to heighten the emotional level of the work. Light from an unseen source and the transition between night and day intrigues him. He is interested in human scale in the environment and context’s effect on objects and their meanings. Whatever the content, he sees the paintings as “emotional vignettes,” rather than formal landscapes. They represent visual remembrances; the artist paying homage to place and time.
Landscape art can be inspired by the poetry of exotic places, but it can also come from an everyday source. Cathy Martin is a farmer as well as an artist who has a lifelong connection with the rolling countryside near Prairie du Chien. Her hands-on experience with the land lends her art an authenticity that results in imagery that goes beyond picturesque recording. Her recognition of the beauty of fields formed by good stewardship of the land—as well as her knowledge of what is required to raise a crop and conserve the soil—makes her a natural interpreter of her home ground. Self taught as an artist, Martin instinctively composes her paintings in ways that invite the viewer to stand where she stands, to feel the ground beneath the alfalfa. These are pretty places, to be sure, but they also grow the hay that feeds the cattle. Appreciation of the patterns of this singular landscape, as well as its weather and seasonal moods, makes a satisfying life for Martin and her family—and some incredibly beautiful landscapes.
David Lenz lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and some of his subject matter comes from places in and around nearby Milwaukee. Another important source of inspiration for Lenz is the landscape of Sauk County in southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Area where he and his family own a hilly piece of land next to a small, traditional dairy farm owned by Erv and Mercedes Wagner. Lenz became close friends with the Wagners and documented their work and their lives on the canvas in loving detail. Lenz has also portrayed his son Sam, who has Down Syndrome, in that farm landscape for a portrait that won first prize in the Smithsonian’s prestigious 2006 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. He has also painted portraits of children of different races who live in Milwaukee’s working class neighborhoods. In these varied subjects that he calls “the three legs of my painter’s stool,”—farm life, people with disabilities, and inner-city youth—Lenz honors the dignity of his subjects in whatever circumstances he finds them. Regular people in regular places commingle in a painting style where realism is so stunningly heightened that ordinariness becomes spiritual. Landscape, urban or rural, is always the surrounding for David Lenz’s art. In all their glowing naturalistic detail, his paintings become a transcendent setting for people in their places who might not otherwise be celebrated.
For me, the Inhabited Landscapes exhibition is as much a celebration of nature that delights and intrigues as it is a collection of diverse perspectives on the natural world that provoke questions about the role of nature in our lives. In the work of seven fine Wisconsin artists with different life experiences with the land, we have seven individual visual narratives of how we all inhabit a landscape of our own perceptions. Exhibitions like this inform our own sense of place and give us plenty to think about when it comes to recreating nature on a canvas.
Indeed, ideas about “landscape into art” in this postmodern age are as complicated and varied as they were for Kenneth Clark writing on the topic in the middle of the last century: They can run the gamut from an innocent and friendly nature scene all the way to a lurid rendition of environmental apocalypse, spawned by anxieties over what we humans have wrought on this planet. The work in Inhabited Landscapes falls in diverse and rewarding ways between these two extremes.
And yet for many of us the beauty and grandeur of nature is all mixed up with concern about what the weather will do to us next, whether the oceans will rise, and whether we will still be hearing the meadow lark’s song from that pasture fence post a few years hence. More and more folks walk down the street looking at the digital device in their hand, not seeing the spectacular panorama of blossoming cumulus clouds in the startlingly blue sky overhead or (apparently seen only by this writer) the Cooper’s hawk’s dramatic swoop at a hapless popcorn-eating sparrow on the Capitol lawn in downtown Madison. So many of these messages of natural wonder are not being received when we submerge ourselves in virtual realities.
But we share in common the environment that sustains us all. Having seen landscape made into art in the gallery and on these pages, we might all go outside, eyes and minds stimulated, to notice more—and to value more—of what is all around us in the city as well as in the country.
A gallery talk with the painter Tom Uttech
Saturday, October 19, 1:30 pm
free and open to the public
Join us this weekend to hear Wisconsin Academy Fellow Tom Uttech discuss his work and his visionary approach to the landscape. Uttech was born and raised in Wisconsin’s north woods, and his art reflects his deep love for the wild places of the upper Midwest and southern Ontario. His paintings, prints, and photographs are represented in major museum collections around the country.
Tom Uttech’s talk will be held in the Watrous Gallery, where three of his paintings are featured in the Inhabited Landscapes exhibition. We hope to see you there!
Tom Uttech, okwanim, 2010. Oil on linen, 45.5 x 49 in. Courtesy of Tory Folliard Gallery.
Gallery hours: T-Th 11-5, F-Sa 11-9, Su 1-5
Tom Uttech, Nin Gaskansas, 49.5×53 inches
Tory Folliard Gallery artists Cathy Martin, Dennis Nechvatal, Charles Munch, and Tom Uttech are featured in the James Watrous Gallery exhibition “Inhabited Landscapes” now through October 27th, 2013. There are many fantastic events associated with the exhibit including a Gallery Talk with Charles Munch on October 4th and a Gallery Talk with Tom Uttech on October 19th. Click HERE for complete information.
Charles Munch, PARADISE VALLEY, Oil on Canvas, 30 1/2 x 38 inches
Tory Folliard Gallery: 25th Year Celebration, by Tom Hoffman
Sixty-seven artists in our 25th Anniversary exhibition!
The Tory Folliard Gallery is celebrating it’s 25th year this year and will be featuring a special exhibition beginning on the April 19th and 20th Gallery Night and Day.
Tory Folliard Gallery is a genuine Milwaukee success story and a crown jewel in our local art world. Tory began her career as a volunteer docent at the Milwaukee Art Museum and as a board member for Friends of Art. Fueled by these experiences and driven by her love of art and passion about artists and the creative process, Tory Folliard opened her first gallery in 1988. Today it is, arguably, the premier art gallery in Wisconsin and is a mandatory stop for all serious art lovers.
Focusing on regional contemporary art she represents the best painters and sculptures in the Midwest. These include Tom Uttech, Elizabeth Shreve, Gladys Nilsson, John Wilde, Jason Rohlf, and Mark Horton to name just a few. Tory has great instincts in her selections and always finds a balance between work that is traditional and poetic to work that is more challenging in its content. What holds it all together is the outstanding quality. She finds artists that are distinctive and unique but never superficial. Even when pieces are decorative, I have found an underlying integrity that belies an emotional connection as the source for the artists inspiration. The discriminating eye is an essential talent for an art dealer and it’s clear that Tory Folliard has it in abundance. We are all richer for it.
This anniversary show will be a group show featuring many of her artists, displaying their current work. Fortunately for us, the artists will be on hand for Gallery Night. A rare and welcome chance to meet and discuss the methods and motivations of these creative and talented people. We should all celebrate with Tory on this important milestone by turning out and seeing the exhibit. It would be a little community payback for a job well done as we wish her many more years in business.
Tom Hoffman, artist / independent arts writer
Gallery Night and Day
April 19, 2013
25th Anniversary Exhibit by Mary Louise Schumacher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St.
With names like Uttech, Stonehouse and Solien in its stable of artists, the Tory Folliard Gallery is doing something right. Some of the very brightest artistic lights in the state and beyond are represented by the gallery, probably the city’s most shrewd commercial gallery and one of the best for contemporary painting.
To celebrate 25 years in business, the gallery will showcase more than 60 artists who have kept the quality of art on the walls consistently high, artists like Tom Uttech, Fred Stonehouse, T.L. Solien, Mark Mulhern, Charles Munch, Jason Rohlf, Sofia Arnold, Mark Brautigam, Clare Malloy and Flora Langlois. Many of the artists will be present Friday night, making the reception the greatest concentration of creative minds for the night, to be sure. Many have created new work especially for the show. The gallery will be open 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 19th and 11 to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Click HERE to see the entire article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Peggy Sue Dunigan of the Shepherd Express recently reviewed “Contemporary Prints.”
Folliard’s “Contemporary Prints” Presents Diversity of the Medium
With Print: MKE 2013 coming to Milwaukee this week, numerous local galleries bring exceptional print shows to the city. At Tory Folliard Gallery, the exhibition “Contemporary Prints” features a wide variety of print images that illustrate the diversity of print processes, each one seen through the eyes and completed with the hands (because printmaking is a dedicated hands on process) of eight well known artists.
Folliard will also exhibit a special window installationa “see through print” on vinyl by Indiana artist Mary Jones. Since the gallery window consists of 12 glass panes, Jones will install 12 see through prints incorporating her original artwork with the title Street Seen. Jones incorporates her witty personal iconography into her artwork, also displayed in her five gallery prints, two titled If You Would and Minor Turbulence, where Jones uses intaglio, letterpress and screen print processes. The window installation will be a one of kind, be sure to see art display.
Milwaukee artist Mark Mulhern presents examples of monoprints, where the artist paints on glass and then prints the piece with a specialized press. Each print is one of a kind and typically, as the name implies, only one print comes from this process, although occasionally another can be obtained, with less detail.
Fred Stonehouse brings his primal portraits and visions to Folliard Gallery in his expressions through aquatint, etching and lithography, where there are added touches of color. The impressive late John Wilde, a master printmaker, shows one of several versions of The Kiss, and his image Three Trees, provides another glimpse of etchings and colored prints. And a continual favorite of Wisconsin art fans, Tom Uttech features several limited edition prints of his magical woodlands in Folliard’s contemporary exhibition.
Modernist T.L. Solien combines several print process in one image; collage, intaglio and woodcut, which he then hand colors to reflect his very distinctive brightly hued perspective to the printmaking technique, many filled with stylized elements. And while recognized for his sculptural paintings, Dennis Nechvatal again uses woodcuts in his floral prints, blooming with color, while Derrick Buisch applies oil paint after he silkscreens on canvas.
These exciting and prodigious examples of print processes also represent diverse variety in subject material and creative style, a great exhibition for learning and studying the medium that presents a microcosm of the contemporary printmaker.
March 15 – April 12, 2013
In conjunction with the SGCI Conference Print MKE 2013, gallery artists Mark Mulhern, Tom Uttech, Derrick Buisch, Dennis Nechvatal, Mary Jones, John Wilde, T.L. Solien, and Fred Stonehouse exhibit monotypes and limited edition prints.
Join us for an artists’ reception on Friday, March 22, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
An exhibition of Tom Uttech’s new paintings was recently featured at the List Gallery at Swarthmore College.
It was posted on Rusty Scupperton’s YouTube page. You can see it by clicking HERE!
Tom Uttech with Bear Cub