Scene and Felt
By Tom Wachunas
“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.” -Paul Cezanne
“Paint the essential character of things.” -Camille Pissaro
EXHIBIT: Landscape, Horses, and Beyond, work by Margo Miller, THROUGH FEBRUARY 15 at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton / Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday Noon to 6 PM / or by appointment 330.546.7061 www.journeyartgallery.com
In the genre of landscape painting, it’s all too common to encounter artists overly enamored of nature’s exterior look while missing “the essential character of things.” With consummate skill they might meticulously render nature’s skin yet fail to grasp its anima, its soul. When technique - paired with imitation of the obvious - becomes and end in itself, even the most outwardly ornate and expertly detailed visions can seem generic at best.
But there’s nothing ordinary about the group of 14 paintings (oil, gouache, and acrylic) by Margo Miller currently showing at Journey Art Gallery. Eschewing wide-angle panoramas, or heroically scaled vistas, her loosely painted surfaces are simpler, intimate pictorial enclosures. Yet they can nonetheless reveal nature’s subtle and ephemeral architecture, in a manner similar to that of Paul Cezanne, while exuding a sense of discovery. They’re true to their subjects and true to painting.
The acrylic on paper painting called Chestnut with Blaze manages to depict both the gentleness and strength of a horse with just a few sure swipes of the brush – the arc of the neck, the muscular flanks, a leg poised for motion. Miller brings that same gestural confidence of painterly mark making to her gouache works, such as Porch View #3, with its broad verticals of tree trunks set among irregular daubs of surrounding foliate shapes. And there’s an almost musical sensibility to the stunning arrangement of interwoven textures, lines and rhythms in her two larger oil landscapes, River Road #1 and #2 - at once a dense and airy journey into the woods.
There may well be an implied narrative throughout this exhibit. When you enter the gallery, first go to the main wall ahead and to the left corner of the gallery, near the window. “Read” the show from left to right. Imagine yourself walking up the thickly wooded path, and passing through lush pastures of grazing horses until you arrive at…Yellow House. This marvelous oil painting is a compelling invitation that appeals to the teacher in me. Maybe I should require my students to see it, as it masterfully employs many of the most fundamental and effective compositional devices at a painter’s disposal. Look long and carefully.
See, someone’s home, perhaps the artist, her light blue sedan parked outside on the russet dirt in the foreground, a deep echo of the coral-colored second story rooftop floating farther back. Savor the harmony of directional lines and analogous color relationships and rhythms (sky-to-house trim-to car, for example), the asymmetrical geometry set in elegant counterpoint to the organic foliage shapes and textures that frame the central focal point of the warm yellow house, its perspective taking you back into the picture plane along its side porches.
Though the skin is a charming sylvan house, the soul is enchantment itself.
PHOTOS, from top: River Road #1, oil on canvas; River Road #2, oil on canvas; Yellow House, oil on canvas