I came across articles on New England landscape paintings made by some artists works from the “Land Ho!” exhibition at Fitchburg Art Museum. These contemporary works were playful, fractured, epic, focused on tiny details — have a conceptual edge. This gives a sort of progressive, yet provocative view of the landscape in the form of paintings.
“The American painting in the past two centuries, landscapes have progressed from the Hudson River School’s romanticised notions of wilderness — glorious, filled with potential — to the more intimate fever dreams rendered by modernists such as Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Arthur Dove. In the last 50 years, landscapes have become more politically charged in response to the way we have battered the environment.”
Sue McNally is a contemporary fine art artist from North Kingston, Rhode Island. She has been travelling the country, painting sites in each state that have personal resonance for her. Her canvases from the “This Land Is My Land” series startle with their hopped-up colours and dizzying patterns. “Maroon Bells, Colorado,” nearly 10 feet across, is a 21st-century echo of big, majestic Hudson River School paintings.
“Maroon Bells, Colorado” rushes like a video shot from a swift-flying drone. I loved the colour theme of this piece, the patterns of the landscape. There is a certain sense of pristine landscape element in the painting, and yet surreal. From the bottom of a riverbed that lifts beneath in patterns of yellow, green, and coral, then rises abruptly to shimmering walls of turquoise and green — steep mountain walls that cup a liquid blue sky. I’m not sure if I’m viewing from underwater or above, but the way this can be interpreted by the viewers are what makes this piece a worthwhile conversation.
In another piece, “Cow Pond, Massachusetts” backs a claustrophobic, swampy green scene with a lurid orange sky. Sue McNally provokes awe and the suspicion that something is not quite right. These are not landscapes to be tamed, like those of great painters of the American West such as Albert Bierstadt. They are instead alien, as forbidding as they are beautiful.