“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet un-captured by language.”
– Aldo Leopold
Downtown Lincoln, specifically the historic Haymarket District, is home to one of Nebraska’s oldest artist colonies, the Burkholder Project. Since the late-80’s, the building has been home to several art studios, galleries and loft apartments, and most specifically home and studio of landscape painter Anne Burkholder.
Though designer and developer of The Burkholder Project, the artist considers this secondary to her first love of painting. A retrospective exhibition of her paintings is now on display through June 1, at Connect Gallery in Omaha. The gallery features over 60 years of Burkholder’s vivid, moody landscapes depicting Nebraska’s enigmatic terroir.
A native of the Sandhills, she grew up in rural central Nebraska. She delights in sharing that her mother gave her a set of oil paints at the young age of six. Burkholder started her formal art education at a very young age when, during visits to her grandparents in Omaha, she was encouraged to tour the exhibits and take classes at the Joslyn Art Museum.
The show includes a wide representation of Nebraska landforms and river scenes, at middle and longer distances, dramatic depictions of weathered skies, and even a couple of scenes with a closer, more intimate viewpoint. Burkholder finds inspiration in all seasons and is never deterred by snow cover or bare trees.
Working mainly from photographs taken during hikes and excursions to the Nebraska hinterlands, the resulting scenes read as idealized, fictional composite images, with crisp delineation and a formalism that is neither natural nor forced. There is a touch of the illustrative Regionalists like Dale Nichols or Terence Duren to these works.
The unreal effect is enhanced by the artist’s depiction of depth. Most landscape realists – especially of the Romantic period or the scene painters of the Hudson River School –tended to add mist and haze to distant views, obscuring detail, but adding a sense of drama and reality. Burkholder prefers to keep her distances crisp, almost as detailed as her foreground.
Since the works are displayed randomly rather than chronologically, the “retrospective” part is not easily evident. Burkholder prefers not to title her work beyond the organizational “Horizon number,” she gives to each, and the labels do not offer any dates. There is on each, however, a welcome descriptive explanation of the location included. The higher “Horizon” numbers are the most recent of works.
As a group, Burkholder’s paintings are subtly romantic, emphasizing the serenity and tranquility of Nebraska’s waterways, open grasslands, groves and unattended farmland. Her scenes feature wide, flat-water rivers, bounded by banks of scrub dogwood, willow, red cedar and boxelder, picturesque plains, sweeping skies, and minimal human intervention. Depictions of people or wildlife will not be found in any of the works. Don’t look for planes in the sky, cars on the roads, cell towers or such.
Burkholder knows what she wants you to look at. Even the depiction of an intermittent road or path, or the rare distant elevator, although kept to a minimum, is used only as simple composition elements and visual cues. The focus is certainly the trees, land, water and sky, and all join to become a canvas within a canvas, freely accepting the offer of the moonlight or post-storm, late afternoon sunlight.
Buildings, sheds, barns, wells, fences, electrical wires – all seem to be considered unimportant, these disturbances to the overall scenic serenity are left out, as is wildlife; birds, squirrels, deer, snakes. The focus of these pieces is the land, the water, the sky, and the importance of the horizon – how the light plays on the land and sky – in establishing a sense of awe.
Although the retrospective covers more than 60 years of painting, it is a compact show and is easily appreciated in a short amount of time. There are two substantially older pieces in the show; a piece from the early 5o’s the artist entered in a student show, and a very interesting abstract landscape from the 70’s. It was somewhat of a disappointment in that there was not more “mid-career” representations.
Works of note in this show are: “Horz 1180,” one of the more intimate viewpoints of a quiet grove or meadow surrounded by trees and shrubs just entering fall color;
“Horz 1179,” depicting a quiet, dirt road disappearing at the horizon, reaching across a field of little bluestem. The red fall color, a signature of this grass plays a nostalgic contrast against the steel blue of the sky;
“Horz 1236,” a striking study of a breaking stormy sky that almost appears to be backlit. The description reads “Sunset, southwest of Chadron.” But this piece and “Horz 1235” are good examples of the Nebraska Regionalists mentioned earlier;
The slightly more impressionist pieces like “Horz 1147” and “1249”have a traditional classical feel. And don’t miss the “November Prairie,” the piece from 1974 mentioned above, an interesting abstract watercolor, quite unlike what we are used to from this artist. The collection of work represents a lifetime of achievement and devotion from a widely-collect artist.
Anne Burkholder, Retrospective, is now on display at Connect Gallery, 3901 Leavenworth St. runs through Saturday June 1st. Further information is available at the gallery’s website www.connectgallery.net or calling 402-991-8234.