See the May/June edition of NHOME Magazine with a curatorial insight article on "Unveiling Texas" by Gallery Director Gabriel Diego Delgado.
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installation view of exhibition
installation view of exhibition
For epochs landscapes have captured the attention of artists around the world, from the infamous Monet lily ponds to the Japanese mountain tapestries; our world has been the surrounding force for a driven passion in fine art. Although landscape painting is centuries old, painters have been a constant in the field capturing the moment , but abstract landscapes combine the artistic expressions of the artist with the solid grounding of an intuitive understanding and cognitive recognition of place; of geography; of horizon; sea, land and air.
Yes, impressionistic landscape painting of the 1800’s and early 1900’s did introduce modernist tendencies including fauvism and aspects of cubism. However, with a the standard horizon-line foreground, middle and background composition being the main-stay of this particular aesthetic there was always an unspoken integrity passed through the generations. With abstract landscapes we understand the poignant properties of the terrain, mixed with factual element.
Texas landscape is no different, a scenic sensibility that continues to inspire. Historic pictorial contributions to the Lone Star State can be traced back to the late 1880’s with the Onderdonk family and the portrayal of the bluebonnet Texas hillsides. Salinas, Wood, Arpe, and the Harrisons – all playing an important role in Texas inspired landscape painting. But one thing they did not conquer was the construct of abstract reference.
Two artists 50 years apart sought to capture the timeless sensibility that we know as the Texas, Southwest and Mexican landscapes. Through individual aspirations, artistic interpretations and geographic assimilations, we discover that half a century adds even more lineage to the pictorial depiction of Texas story; brought forth between generational Texpatriots.
In the 1960’s San Antonio painter Jose Vives-Atsara, (1919 – 2004) an internationally recognized painter, dove into landscape abstraction during a time when Abstract Expressionism was in its infancy. Highlights of his decade’s long artistic career include a city of San Antonio initiated gift to the Pope John Paul II for the Vatican presented by Archbishop Patrick Flores in 1987 to painted contributions within the art collection of Juan Carlos, King of Spain.
His mastered palette knife technique lent itself to bold color gestures, intuitive mark making, and swatches of bright and colorful hues bringing the Texas, Mexican and Spanish landscapes to life. Known for his florals, landscapes, and renditions of Texas scenes, Vives-Atsara made a name during a time when artistic liberties were a far reach in the genre of traditional landscape painting.
For Jose Vives-Atsara, one can only explore personal aspects of his life to begin to understand a leap into a fray of abstraction. To see inside the artist’s mind, you see a world turned upside-down –international relocation, new job, and new house. As a thriving art career began to unfold, Jose Vives-Atsara -- already known for his still-lifes, portraits, landscapes, and wildflowers began to paint a series of abstract landscapes with his signature 11 color palette; a choice one might think was reflective of the chaos of such personal upheavals and distresses.
Abstract Landscape by Vives-Atasara, illustrates this new exploration of intellectual abstraction. Closing in on the rocky pathway like some overgrown Tim Burton landscape, the trees line the gauntlet, creating a foreboding effect on top of artistic mystification. Adding to the mystery is the fact we do not know if Vives-Atsara is painting the Guadalupe River, the Texas Hill Country, the Spanish countryside, or the various seascapes that captured his attention.
“My using a palette knife, a spatula, happened accidentally. The professors that taught me always used brushes. I experimented with the spatula and I like the result; it added improved texture and spontaneity to my paintings. An artist must be educated in the standard techniques of painting, but there is no substitute for his personal daily experience and his mistakes”, says Vives-Atsara.
In Vives-Atsara’s work we see the movement in which the work was created, the potent and deliberate manipulation of color mixed with purposeful marks, gestures and highlights. With quick whips with the palette knife Vives-Atsara cuts into the paint, creating cactus needle-like textural accents in select areas. Red, orange, blue and yellow swatches of color dance across the composition. We begin to see the piecemeal landscape scene as our eyes digest the familiar outlines; trees, rocks, and path.
On the other hand, San Antonio artist Russell Stephenson gives us a collection of meditative, romantic and warm golden-brown abstract landscapes. These paintings contrast his predecessor with images that are minimal in bright hues; but instead continually capture the setting sun or the dawning of a new day in a signature aesthetic that gains ground in rich earth tones.
Stephenson paints Mesa, Caprock, Llano Estacado, Bastrop, Lubbock, Rockport and other locations in his Panoramic Texas series with distinctive horizon lines, giving us familiar elements to enter the composition; familiarize ourselves with the terrain and ingest the beautiful quality of that specific topographical location – mountains, coast, plains, etc.
With glazes, textures, and a mastered control of pressure, Stephenson lays forth bountiful clouds and atmospheres that dance across the Texas skies ~ a pictorial grandeur to the majestic skyline; visually reinforcing the “big and bright” of the revered Texas tune. We begin to see the role the firmament plays in relation to the lands below; a relationship broken down into minimal strata.
Unlike Vives-Atsara, Stephenson grounds us with bold, linear horizontal lines that break up the special abstractions into two distinctive properties. Vives-Atsara surrounds us in color, with surprising wicks, flicks, and wisps that create active energies with a literal all over composition; giving respect to the Abstract Expressionist call.
As the Fine Art lineage of Texas landscapes continues into the new generation, we will again see how the past affects the future. One thing will always hold true -- Texas acts as muse in her own stately liberties, drawing artists from all over to bath in her Lone Star luxury; adding inspiration, tranquility and perseverance to individual artwork –no matter the medium, genre, or aesthetic.