May 6th, 2011
Cahoon Exhibit Takes You Far From the Madding Crowd
May 6, 2011
by Mary Richmond
Focuses on Lone Figure and the Landscape
There is something universal about the lone figure in the landscape and the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit has put together a fine exhibition under that premise. The Lone Figure and the Landscape, on view through June 12, was curated by Richard Waterhouse and includes recent works by local artists as well as choice pieces from the museums collections and long term loans.
Artists in the exhibition include Selma Alden, Vincent Amicosante, Joan Chase Augustino, Sam Barber, Heather Blume, Anne Boucher, Sean Boyce, Martha Cahoon (1905-1999), Samuel Chamberlain (1895-1975), Spencer Crooks (1917-2004), John Cosby, Harvey Dinnerstein, Jennifer Downey, Kimberly duCharme, Jason Eldredge, Kim English, Taylor Fox, Jon Friedman, Debra Fritts, Carole Chisholm Garvey, Charles Paul Gruppe (1860-1940), James Holland, Joni K. Johnston, Jeffrey T. Larson, William J. Maloney, Susan OBrien McLean, Joseph McGurl, Mortimer Menpes (1855-1938), Wayne Morrell, Charles Munro, Jan Munro, Rosalie Nadeau, Doug Rugh, Robert Roark, Don Stone, Elinore Schnurr, Paul Schulenburg, Unknown Artist, and Thomas Waterman Wood (1828-1901)
Viewing art is very often a private experience. What I see and feel may not be what you see or feel and so on. We can share some responses, to be sure, but most often our responses to art reflect our own history, cultural education and emotional involvement with the subject. Add to that the intent, real or imagined, of the artist and one can begin to understand the appeal of the lone figure in the landscape as icon, idealization and symbol throughout art history.
In many cases we imagine the figure in the landscape to be contemplative and observant, perhaps even preparing for a profound experience of self-realization as they gaze out upon a landscape that could and should dwarf and humble them but which may also offer inspiration. This seems true of the figures depicted in the paintings by Friedman, Holland and Nadeau as they gaze out into the vastness of the sea and the sky. Artists Roark and McGurl give us views of the artist himself in the landscape and we see what they are seeing and painting even as we look at the finished result from a different point of view. Chisholm Garvey uses deceptively simple color blocks and planes in her pastel painting and adds a tiny figure dressed in red in the distance, a nod to the classical use of a touch of red to draw our eye to a focal point.
Some of these paintings show a figure close up with the landscape a part of the composition but less of a focal point, while others refer to historical uses of the figure in a large landscape where the figure is placed as much for scale as for emotional or aesthetic impact.
There is something sort of lonely and melancholy about this exhibit, something which Cahoons tribute to Rousseaus Sleeping Gypsy with her own version of a dreaming mermaid upon the sand speaks to quite well. When we are alone in the landscape we are alone with ourselves, with nature, with our view of God. We can contemplate or celebrate; we can passively appreciate or actively participate in the landscape around us.
This is a well thought out and put together exhibit and those who love realistic painting that tells or suggests a story will especially like it. It has a good mix of contemporary realistic paintings and more classical paintings.
Richard Waterhouse will be giving a talk at the museum on May 10 and on May 24 artists Heather Blume, John Friedman and Susan McLean will be on hand. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. The museum is on Route 28 in Cotuit.