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Landscape Painting Made Radical

June 13, 2019

Joseph Yoakum, St. Louis & San Francisco Rail Road, n.d., color pencil, watercolor on paper, 12 x 183/4 in, 30.5 x 47.6 cm, (JYOA034).,  COURTESY VENUS OVER MANHATTAN, NEW YORK.
Marsden Hartley . Rising Wave, Indian Point, Georgetown, Maine. 1937-1938.,  THE BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART: EDWARD JOSEPH GALLAGHER III MEMORIAL COLLECTION, BMA 1958.41
Peter G. Holbrook, Isis Temple and Colonnade, 1995, oil on canvas, 30 x 45 in.,  COLLECTION OF THE TUCSON MUSEUM OF ART. VIRGINIA JOHNSON FUND. 1995.48 © PETER G. HOLBROOK

Landscape Painting Made Radical 

By Chad Scott 

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” John Muir.

The same can be said of a walk through the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Expressions of Nature exhibit.

Forget Albert Bierstadt. Forget the Hudson River School. Forget Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and the mid-19th century French Barbizon painters. Forget the realistic, sublime, quiet, reserved recreations of nature you are accustomed to.

This is tour de force landscape painting where the occasionally staid genre collides head-on with Modern Art as interpreted by many of the movement’s most prominent and avant-garde practitioners.

“The landscapes included in our exhibition (through September 22) can be seen as wonderful examples of artistic freedom, where the love of the medium—whether it be paint, charcoal, or watercolor—is explored and pushed in new and exciting ways,” Katy Rothkopf, BMA Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, said. “Unlike landscapes of the 18th and early 19th centuries, where a story or moral lesson was typically included in the scene, the modern artists seen in this show are producing work without those boundaries.”

Chaim Soutine’s hellish View Overlooking Céret (1922). Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s feverish Flower Beds in the Dresden Gardens (1910). Gustav Klimt’s ethereal Pine Forest II (1901).

The exhibit further scrambles your brain presenting fantastically atypical work from well-known masters.

There’s a charcoal drawing, Trees by at the Edge of a River (1908), by Piet Mondrain. It’s lacks any color, features a realistic depiction, and couldn’t be further removed visually from the colorful, abstract, rectilinear paintings which made him an icon.

Admire a watercolor from Pointillist Paul Signac. Gorgeous as ever despite its complete lack of dots or dashes.

A pair of reality-fracturing seascapes from John Marin send you grasping for handrails.

A woozy harbor scene by William H. Johnson leaves you asking where this artist has been all your life?

“For artists like Kirchner, Soutine, Johnson, Marin, or (Marsden) Hartley, one can feel the power of the medium in their compositions that are filled with energy and their unique expressive styles,” Rothkopf said.

For an even wilder walk on the wild side of landscape painting, Venus Over Manhattan gallery in New York presents Joseph Yoakum June 20 through July 26. Yoakum was a self-taught artist, his work variously categorized as “outlier,” “outsider,” “folk,” “naïve,” “vernacular.” The art world has always struggled to define these artists who have come to it unconventionally.


Few paths could be less conventional than Yoakum’s.

Born sometime during the late 19th century, official records differ from his personal memory, Yoakum tramped around the country working in the circus and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He served with the army in World War I. He hopped freight cars across the American West.

He finally settled in Chicago in the late 20s where he spent decades working with his hands as a tradesman before devoting himself to his art–at 72-years-old!

Yoakum was included in a major reassessment of the “Outlier” movement which traveled the country from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta and Los Angeles in 2018 and his work has been featured in solo exhibitions at both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

This show, with more than 60 examples, marks the largest group of Yoakum’s work assembled in New York since 1972 when the Whitney staged its exhibit.

Yoakum’s vast travels informed his work. He painted what he remembered seeing. That experience is expanded upon at the Tucson (Arizona) Museum of Art where its Travelogue: Grand Destinations and Personal Journeys exhibit will be on view until September 29.

“The idea of travel and visual recording of place among artists was a common theme found in almost all of the Tucson Museum of Art collections,” one of the show’s curators, Christine Brindza, said. “Travel is also something that visitors may connect with particularly during the summer, which is also the time frame of the exhibition.”

The family summer road trip remains one of America’s great, enduring traditions. While Travelogue’s focus extends to destinations across the globe, the home state of the Tucson Art Museum continues to engender a special pull to tourists and artists alike.

“The unique topographical features, flora and fauna, as well as the rich history of the Southwest and Arizona, continue to inspire artists to visit and create works of art,” Brindza said. “Each artist may be drawn to a certain landmark or geological formation in Arizona such as Mt. Graham, the Grand Canyon, or Baboquivari Mountain; or they may be attracted to the saguaro or other cacti unique to the region.”

A need to travel, spread out, see something different exists in the DNA of many of us. Indulge that desire this summer in Baltimore, New York and Tucson, inside and outside of gallery walls.

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