Listening to the Land
By Tom Wachunas
"I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees." - Henry David Thoreau
“Memory is the fourth dimension to any landscape.” - Janet Fitch
EXHIBIT: Landscapes Lost and Found – Paintings and Drawings by Emily Vigil / at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH DECEMBER 3, 2017
There’s a river flowing in every artwork of this exhibit by Emily Vigil. I’m speaking neither of sparkling streams in verdant woods, nor torrents of water rushing through fertile valleys. You won’t see spectacular illusions of majestic geography. Don’t look to be wowed by huge, hyper-realistic renderings of breathtaking panoramas.
It’s another sort of fluid continuum that courses through these works, varied as they are in materiality, scale, and iconography. Call it a steady narrative current of memory, discovery, and desire. Vigil tells us in her statement: “…I finally allowed myself to reach toward other places, not always physically experienced, but imagined, present in our culture. My questions about place evolved into questions about time…” The spirit of this exhibit is equal parts nostalgic and forward-looking.
Vigil’s expressionist painting style has a gestural earnestness that imbues even her most delicate observations of nature with visceral immediacy, as in her mixed media “Duet.” Accompanying the painting is a thoroughly charming poem (written in a style recalling the syntactic playfulness of e.e. cummings) describing her serene encounter with a damselfly and bee that we see in the paining. Vigil is a painter with the soul of a poet.
Further evidence of her considerable writing gifts can be found in the booklet placed on a pedestal for viewers to read, titled “Echo, our home.” In it, Vigil lovingly relates how she came to name her northeast Ohio home - the land upon which she resides with her family. At the end of the tale, she writes, “That is how I describe our home – this land: a relationship – the wetland and the valley, filtering back an echo of my words…our words…Ever diminishing, they never quite disappear.” Painter and poet…always listening.
Some of the most alluring pieces here - including several acrylic transfer prints that have the grainy patina of old photos taken in diaphanous light – are remarkably small in scale. The smallest of her all-acrylic paintings, such as “Presence (Towpath Trail),” “Broken River,” and “Dreaming,” are intimate, elegant microcosms of painterly textures.
Collectively, these images describe a journey at once deeply personal and yet approachable – a geography both private and familiar, stilled and in motion. One of the larger paintings, “The Paths Inward,” is perhaps an invitation for us as viewers to literally reflect on our own relationship with nature. It’s executed on a mirror, with only a few slivers of glass still visible, punctuating the scene with little flashes of light as you move around it. Sparks of life and changeability.
Think of the exhibit as a confluence of people, places, and things remembered, longed-for, or presently real… of ephemerality side-by-side with permanence. Here, the ever-diminishing is juxtaposed with the never-quite- disappearing. And all of it is situated in an enchanting flow. Like a river.
PHOTOS, from top: Presence (Towpath Trail), acrylic on fabric; Duet, mixed media; Broken River, acrylic on panel; Dreaming, acrylic on aluminum; The Paths Inward, acrylic on mirror; Broken Forest, oil on paper