Three Contemporary Landscape Painters Celebrate The American Heartland
Landscapes can be rendered in formal terms or with more expressiveness; artists may make use of vibrantly colored paint on canvas or the austere tones of black-and-white photography. The works of Rodger Bechtold, Stephen Dinsmore, and Craig Mooney, three contemporary landscape painters, tend more to the latter, exploring the particularities of their place—Nebraska, Vermont, or someplace entirely imagined—with emotional intensity and a vigorous practice.
Rodger Bechtold’s paintings are lyrical; his focus settles on the temporal qualities of light. By drawing on the more dramatic elements found in nature—the stark contrast of a birch tree and a light-deprived forest, shadows cast along a barn by a setting sun, and the magnificent orange that deciduous tree leaves turn in fall—Bechtold imbues each of his landscapes with a certain epic quality. His work blurs the line between representation and abstraction; it seems that his more evocative works veer to the more abstract. With works like Dancing Birch, the relationship between color and composition lends itself well to a comparison to the abstract expressionist style.
As with Bechtold’s works, Stephen Dinsmore’s expressive brushstrokes, enthusiastic application of color, and overall gestural style gives his work an abstract expressionist sensibility. Particularly in the case of Ojibway #2, abstraction beats out representation. Atmospheric and luminous, each of his works marks a new exploration of color and form. It seems clear that Dinsmore is more concerned with finding visual vibrations in his color palette than necessarily with articulating leaves on a tree or making specific landscapes recognizable. For Dinsmore, “painting is a process of discovery and arrival”; it’s a search for the “subject or visual find that [he] just can’t walk away from.”
Moving away from the land itself, Craig Mooney focuses on the effects of light on bodies of water. Bursts of yellow in Sundown (2014) spill out from a cloud-dense sky, providing a warm contrast to the dark green terrain that unwinds at the bottom of the frame. By honoring a personal and emotional response to nature and using rich colors to render natural forms, Mooney’s work recalls a romantic style, and in particular the work of J.M.W. Turner.
When viewed together, these landscape painters share a certain collective sensibility—an acuity to light and a dedication to showing the emotional effects of nature on the human psyche.