Just as a consummate haiku is an allegorical testament to nature and a season, so also is an expert landscape painting. Seasonal analogy is usually as much a part of artwork sourced in nature as is application of color.
The current exhibit, Nebraska Landscapes and the Big Sky,at Galley 1516 is a testament to the art of the landscape. The show brings together two of Nebraska’s most accomplished landscape artists; Jennifer Homan and Hal Holoun.
The work from these two artists is, like the venerable haiku, thick with emotion and impression stemming from simplest of elements. In a fitting follow-up to the previous exhibit by the Missouri Valley Impressionist Society, the current offering continues with a focused display of regional landscapes from the eyes and minds of two adept artists.
A total of forty works are fit comfortably into the spacious gallery at 1516.The warm lighting and inviting natural wood elements of the gallery enhance the natural subject matter of the art. The art is separated with Holoun taking the west side of the gallery and Homan on the east. The works from both artists are accessible scale, around 30 to 48 inches, with a few slightly larger or smaller. The display is professional and easily accessible.
Holoun, a professional artist since 1980, presents bit of a retrospective of his work. This provides a range of slightly different subjects and textural styles. The work is not presented chronologically, which did not deter in any way, as Holoun is an accomplished painter and is comfortable with a range of styles and brushstrokes. He deftly uses what is needed for each of his subjects.
His theme is neither sky nor land; it is about feeling and essence. He is the first to tell you his art is not site specific, and he is simply trying to communicate a feeling. His is the more varied of the two and covers a wide range of subject matter. His work borders on the abstract, lacks strong detail, but aptly depicts the intensity and the spiritual in sunsets and mystery of riverbanks, the security in rolling farm fields and dramatic clouds, the expectations in sunrises and melting snow.
One of the strongest pieces of the entire show is Holoun’s “Early Evening, Loup River” (2017,) a straight-on view of the river’s edge at dusk. It could be anywhere; a quintessential, dreamy stand of deeply gilded trees along the bank, surrounded by mist settling on a cacophonous collection of nocturnal chirping and croaking creatures.
Of course, this being impressionism, the insects and frogs are not depicted, but they arethere. The piece is hung on a small crimson wall at the back of the gallery, which only serves to enhance the glow of the setting sun and the intense greens of the trees.
In contrast to those bold colors is “Spring Thaw” (2003,) a subtle piece, with its quiet, grey winter sky and soft dormant grass cradling sinewy rivulets of melting snow. The crispness of winter hangs in the air, but a setting sun behind the icy clouds hints at the longer, warmer days ahead.
Two of this reviewer’s favorites are the “Bohemian Alps, North View, Saunders County, NE” (2016) and a sister piece, “Noonlight, Bohemian Alps, (Valley City, NE)” (2018). These both depict glowing ochre and yellow and tan fields of rolling cropland, hills marching off into the distance, with meek farm houses and buildings nestled quietly on the land. These as with “Spring Thaw” mentioned above, bring to mind Edward Hopper, if maybe more bucolic.
Jennifer Homan has been showing her work professional since about 2004. She is an educator and environmentalist, and a member of the prestigious Pastel Society of America. Since it is pastel on panel, the work lacks the sculptural effects that Holoun gets from his paint. This does not deter from the intense depth she gets in her work. Her detailed pastel rendering of cloud edges and storm banks create statuesque skyscapes of broiling thunderstorms and puffy, dulcet clouds.
Homan exhibits 18 of her works, spanning only a few recent years (though a couple of labels lacked dates.) Her crisply detailed ominous storms and foreboding sheets of rain contrast nicely with her “suggestions” of houses and towns at ground level.
All of her work except for two were noticeably square in format; not the typical horizontal rectangle seen in most landscape or “big sky” paintings. This was a welcome change as it creates a more compact and intimate relationship for the viewer and removes that aspect of time inherent in wider pictures, where the viewer must scan back and forth.
Homan has a masterful grasp of color, and her eye captures the luminescence of the midwestern sun thoroughly, whether it be dusk or high noon. The most interesting of her works, however, are those that tend toward monochrome. Several mix this grey with that darker grey and silver grey and warm grey and a dusting of rust or violet to create the subtlest of graduations.
Highlights include “Dusting Skies 08.14” (2016), with its busy grey sky dropping down to a hint of sunset or sunrise, the light creating the sharpest of hinted outline around the trees at the bottom, bringing them alive and off of the flat grey backdrop. A soft downpour comes in from the left edge, soon to obliterate the light.
Another, “Silver Lined Skies 08.08” (2017), is one of her largest at 4 x 4 feet. This boldly presents a break in the clouds as the subject of the piece, a promise of better things ahead.
Of the two rectangular images, “Serene Skies 05.30” (2017) captures the turquoise and salmon of an antique postcard, a touch of nostalgia, coloring the sky above a distant horizon.
By far the most interesting was the black rectangle in back. “Sleeping Skies” (2015) a 30 x 30 square of apparent blacks and darkest greys. Until you spend a bit of time with it. This mysterious square soon reveals velvet black heavens transitioning to a warm charcoal and silvery horizon with hints of amethyst.
Only then do you notice the black silhouette of a cedar at the right that stops you from leaving and forces you to see the hints of man’s presence in pinpoint lights and the suggestion of a town just waking.
Both artists have produced allusions. Whether it be in Hal Holoun’s impasto sunset over a hidden lake, or Jennifer Homan’s incoming front of hail and downpour, there is more than just the sum of parts. These landscapes bring emotion and memories, from minimal and simple elements, much like a deft haiku.
Nebraska Landscapes and the Big Skyruns through August 26th. Contact Gallery 1516 at 402-305-1510 for hours, or go to www.gallery1516.org