Reimagining New Mexico; Gerald Peters Gallery, 1005 Paseo de Peralta, 505-954-5700, gpgallery.com; through Aug. 3
Painters of the Southwestern landscape abound. Many render mountainous terrain, mesas, and canyon lands in sun-washed and moonlit tones, often removing all traces of a human presence.
But that’s not what Reimagining New Mexico — which features artists Mike Glier, Leon Loughridge, James McElhinney, and Don Stinson — is about. Most of the works on view are quiet, contemplative vistas that suggest ways of looking at New Mexico’s varied terrain, and acknowledge, to varying degrees, the human impact on the land. Still, it’s not a polemic, and that’s to its credit. The landscapes can be appreciated for their natural beauty, and still have something to say.
In fact, the woodblocks of Loughridge and the watercolors and monotypes of McElhinney (a new addition to the gallery) probably come closest to being traditional landscapes. The subject of McElhinney’s landscapes are the vistas at points along the Rio Grande, and they have a certain old-school appeal. Following in the footsteps of 19th- and early-20th-century expedition artists like George Catlin, who sketched en plein air, McElhinney recorded his impressions in what he calls his Grand River Sketchbook. Examples from the sketchbook are on view, in addition to other works.
Yet, McElhinney’s paintings and monotypes subtly convey a sense of the changes wrought by time and human activity. Faint lines surround elements of his compositions. These are traces of rocky outcroppings, vegetation, and in some cases, houses. In the monoprint White Rock Moonrise, for instance, the ghost of a house can be seen along the side of the river, which snakes through the canyon and reflects the silvery white of the moonlight. This outline is not colored in or rendered with any detail. The house may have existed there or it could be an artistic embellishment. Either way, his compositions suggest how the landscape may have looked, as opposed to how it looks now. It’s as though McElhinney is combining two views of the landscape into a confluence of past and present.
Each artist is given his own space within the gallery. While they work in different styles and mediums, there’s a conversation between the works, particularly those from McElhinney, Stinson, and Loughridge. These artists explore the theme of the altered landscape, as well as the past versus the present, but they do so from different perspectives. It’s a thoughtful examination of how a landscape can be more than just a pretty picture, with a little imagination.
Don Stinson’s work is a more explicit take on human intrusions than McElhinney’s, but he seems less interested in how natural environments have been altered by people than by the human/landscape interaction. All of Stinson’s paintings depict what’s actually there or what could be there, whether it’s a road sign, an old motel, or a diner fallen into disrepair. He doesn’t remove power lines and telephones poles; he embraces them. In fact, Stinson, a watercolor painter, treats these elements with a kind of reverence. The manmade structures he paints are often the dilapidated remnants of American roadside culture. His paintings are panoramic and give a sense of the wide vistas of the American West. Buildings, gas stations, and billboards dot the horizon or stand alongside old highways and byways but are nearly swallowed in the vast expanses. His paintings have a melancholic feeling: Nature endures but the cultural remnants built up around them crumble and fade.
Loughridge’s watercolors and woodblock prints give the viewer a sense of an elysian past that speaks through the ancient ruins of the indigenous cultures of the Southwest. He captures a delicate, understated sense of the mysterious beauty of locations like Chaco Canyon and sites in the Pecos Wilderness. These are earthy compositions in which the remnants of ancient architecture are seen, in perhaps an idealized way, as though they were a natural feature of the landscape. Loughridge’s interest is in remote places and sites with long histories that still hold a magical quality. At least, that’s the sense with which he imbues them. His prints hark back to those of artists like Gustave Baumann, and although they’re less storybook in feeling and tone than Baumann’s, they have a similar sense of enchantment. Loughridge doesn’t paint just what’s there but often reinterprets what’s there, imagining how an ageless site may have looked in its heyday.
In contrast, Glier works abstractly. It seems fitting that he should have his own space. A separate room houses his works.
A traveling, plein air painter, Glier works intuitively. Many of his oil paintings are the result of trying to capture the multisensory experience of immersion in a landscape. That includes the visuals, but also the sights and sounds, which he suggests through the staccato rhythm of repetitive imagery. There are traces of traditional landscape painting in his work, but often the forms are reductive, as if he’s visualizing an impression or a feeling. Even at its most abstract, such as in the painting Quiet: Lama, New Mexico, the result isn’t entirely nonobjective, as it’s rooted in a sense of place.
At its best, Reimagining New Mexico offers the viewer some new ways of looking at the landscape. Except for Glier, the works on view are not bold reimaginings, but they are atypical. On the whole, they give a rounded perspective on the majesty of the New Mexico landscape. They honor the legacy of landscape tradition while still providing a contemporary view.