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Land Ho 

Exhibit tackles landscapes from different angles

Landscape. The very word, for me at least, conjures up a catalogue of images shaped by my training as an art historian. Those images range from the intense beauty of a Turner landscape to the sylvan forests of Poussin to the geometry of Cezanne and the raw power of Van Gogh or Anselm Kiefer... and the list goes on, ad infinitum. In an entirely different vein, landscape makes me think of sanctuary, of nature's capacity to provide an escape, an antidote from the poisons of the everyday.

But landscape is a relative term, as I have no doubt shown by merely sharing what comes to my mind when I think of the word. Think for a moment. How would you define landscape? For some of you, I imagine that the word suggests nature; for others, it may be a term used to describe a trait of a particular region. It might be what you do to your yard, or it might be a way to describe a state of mind.

However, whatever the word suggests to each one of us, if you look beneath any definition of landscape, you'll find the effect of culture --- our myths, our values, our individual memories. For instance, some landscapes are intentionally designed to express the virtues of a particular political or social community. Look at Mount Rushmore, our nation's capitol, a local park, or the yards in your neighborhood.

There are many ways to consider landscape, and the current exhibit at the Elder Art Gallery, Landscapes East to West: As the Crow Flies, features landscapes by a variety of artists from all over the country. The work is a mixed bag, but it's worthwhile to stop in and consider the variety of different approaches to landscape painting, stylistic as well as thematic.

The Elder Art Gallery has been open for six months. The gallery currently represents 25 contemporary American artists. Larry Elder wants his venue to be a place where people feel welcome, a place where people feel comfortable to come and look and learn about art and what they like. As he shared with me, "A lot of people feel intimidated the first time they visit a gallery. I want this to be fun place to visit... a place where you can drop in with no pressure. We have all had the experience of entering a gallery only to be ignored by the staff; I never go back to those places and that is precisely what I want to avoid when people come to visit the Elder Gallery."

The landscape paintings in the exhibit at Elder are very approachable. Pictures of landscapes are familiar; in fact, most of us, at some point in our own lives -- talent withstanding -- have drawn or sketched such an image. Whether in kindergarten or doodling yesterday, we all know the basic components of traditional landscape pictures. Foreground, middle-ground, background. Rolling hills, verdant forests, sunrise, sunset. Pastoral, moody, abstract. Most of us are familiar with the language of landscape.

Most of the paintings in the exhibit are quite ordinary and lacking a strong artistic point of view. The majority of the paintings simply state, "I was here and this is what I saw." However, there are several works in the show that exhibit something more.

The mixed media pieces of Jill Jones are the strongest works in the exhibit. Her seeing and consequent representation goes much deeper than mere surface appeal. Her series "Leaving Taos," especially the small mixed media pieces included therein, are quite powerful. Moody and abstract, these tiny microcosms are expressive, not merely reportage.

Patrick Glover's paintings offer a different interpretation of "landscape." His four paintings offer the landscape of the highway -- not what we traditionally envision, but if you live in a city (Glover lives in New York), this is part of the landscape. The painting "The LIE (Long Island Expressway)" is a misty image of expressway driving in a rainstorm -- nature asserting her power upon a manmade device created for order and efficiency. (This is followed by another effective piece, "Clearing Up on the LIE.") Glover's images challenge us to consider other definitions for landscape and, whether intentionally or not, they also dispassionately show the human imprint on the land.

Jon Nelson of Bluffton presents Lowcountry South Carolina with a cool palette of pinks and lavenders in a large square painting titled "Recrudescence." His use of color, coupled with the compositional device of a low horizon line, results in a dreamy, wistful image of the southern landscape.

Dennis Ziemienski of San Francisco presents landscape through his own lens of nostalgia in paintings such as "Sonoma Hillside" and "Fresh OJ."

The remainder of the artwork in the show is rather prosaic. The images range from watercolors of seascapes and loosely painted landscapes to heavily painted groves and mountains. However, landscape is truly subjective, so check out this exhibit and decide for yourself.

The exhibit Landscapes East to West: As the Crow Flies continues through July 20 at Elder Art Gallery, 1427 South Blvd. Details: 370-6337. *

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