The Southern landscape, renowned in literature as a backdrop for social relationships, comes to the fore in a new exhibition titled Through a Window of Paint: A Sampling of Southern Realistic Landscape Painters at Swan Coach House Gallery. The show concentrates on highly realistic paintings while including a variety of styles. With 28 works by 17 artists who live in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee, the exhibit offers scenes ranging from an expansive estuary to a hallucinogenic tree.
Joe Remillard’s Secret Falls could be mistaken for a photograph if you stood far enough away from the large-scale oil-on-canvas painting. The Kennesaw State University art professor uses meticulous realism to depict a theatrical arena of rocks in a riverbed, with a boulder-strewn foreground and an algae-streaked cliff across the water. Variations in the rocks and a quiet drama—a hiker leaving the scene, a swimmer, and a black dog watching the hiker—provide shifting focal points.
North Carolina artist Rebecca Fagg’s painting Black Balsam stands out for its masterful treatment of light. Rain-laden clouds move across mountains covered with scrubby vegetation and sparse evergreens, discretely illuminating some patches of earth while shading others. The changing weather and transient light recall Thomas Cole’s panorama The Oxbow, which contrasts the wildness of nature with the pastoral environment created by man. Fagg’s painting is named for Black Balsam Bald, an area in the Pisgah National Forest which underwent extensive clear-cutting. Like Remillard’s Secret Falls, the scene could pass as a Western landscape, raising the question of what distinguishes a Southern setting.
Peggy Everett comes close to conveying the sublime in Interlude on St. Simons while using loose brushwork that calls attention to the paint. The oil on canvas, just completed in July 2010 from plein-air studies, is almost a nocturne, depicting a brooding coastal area during a break in a storm. For her dramatic cloudscapes, the St. Simons artist cites Russian landscape painter Fyodor Vasilyev as an influence. Another romantic work by Everett, Light Up My World, is tucked away in an office at the gallery.
By contrast Atlanta artist Silas Durant’s psychologically charged Into the Wilderness portrays wilderness as a wintry entanglement. Reflections of skeletal birch trees merge and overlap in a web-like pattern in a creek while the background is an impenetrable thicket shrouded in fog. Subdued colors enhance the melancholic mood of this closely cropped work.
Tennessee painter Edward Kellogg’s Tellico Creek is the most abstract work in the group, with phosphorescent greens, yellows, pinks, and blues that suggest the liveliness in nature. The colors recall Fauvism while the work retains the conventions of traditional landscape painting.
Although Through a Window of Paint offers nothing new, it is a worthy overview of a genre and can sharpen our take on the natural environment.
Through a Window of Paint: A Sampling of Southern Realistic Landscape Painters runs through October 2 at the Swan Coach House Gallery. The gallery will host an artists’ reception on Thursday, September 9, from 6-8PM.