The current exhibit at the Frameworks Gallery is a fine collection of plein air work by local Minnesota artists Greg Lipelt, Derek Davis and Joshua Cunningham. The Frameworks has consistently brought together talented plein air painters and is one of Minnesota’s most important galleries for local artists. Pam Fechter and Jim Laitinen, who together have almost 50 years’ experience in running the Frameworks, come from an arts background—Fechter has a degree in studio arts and Laitinen is an artist. They also have a knack for spotting artistic quality and innovation.
For Greg Lipelt, who has more than 20 works at the Frameworks, this show is a review of his life in art. Having started his career as an illustrator, excelling in tight, detailed work, Lipelt made the long journey to paint, and today is known for his loose, expressive brushwork and vibrant colors. To see an entire wall of his paintings is an awesome experience. The landscapes sing with color; the portraits delve into character and emotion; and the still lifes are enchanting studies in composition and color harmony.
Derek Davis is a painter’s painter. His work is all about color, shape, edges and atmosphere. Davis has an amazing color range, from the strong reds and yellows of autumn to the subtle grays in snowy shadows to the smoky purples in an evening sunset. His canvases are alive with painterly action. Shapes push against shapes, edges and lines appear then disappear, temperature and values keep the light moving.
Joshua Cunningham’s rural and urban scenes are loaded with stories and memories. You can’t look at Cunningham’s work without being moved by the stillness of an isolated farm, the eerie quiet of a full moon hovering over a snowy field, or the familiar colors of a chilly autumn day. Cunningham rarely paints people into his scenes. He leaves us, the viewers, alone with the nature he paints. We are drawn into his paintings, like being absorbed in a great novel, and, if only for a few moments, we lose ourselves in the story.
Plein air painting, popular in Minnesota since the 19th century, is experiencing a surge throughout the country. From California to New York, from Minnesota to Texas, painters’ organizations, plein air competitions, art critics, galleries and art magazines are bringing the best and most collectable works to the public’s attention.
The fascination with plein air work has a lot to do with its painterly qualities. Plein air painting is distinct for its spontaneity, movement, feeling and light, yet artists have their own unique way of translating these qualities into paint. Greg Lipelt captures light with strokes of pure hues from a high-key palette. Joshua Cunningham imbues his canvases with a quiet tension and subtle sense of mood. Derek Davis’ paintings are filled with energetic compositions and vigorous brushwork.
Though plein air paintings are about nature, they are not about the replication of nature. Rather, the artist acts as an interpreter of the landscape, in all its variety and permutations. Plein air painting involves a lot of looking and reflecting as artists attempt to understand their own relationship with the land. Each painting is the unique fruit of those mental and emotional processes.
The paintings in this show are about a nature that has not yet been destroyed by human hands, a nature that still holds promise. These are scenes of local places—a rural road, a stretch of river, a clump of trees—cherished and protected by neighborhoods and communities. These paintings are emotionally moving, but not sentimental. They give us, not nostalgia for an idealized or glorified “national” landscape, but a practical and modest sense of our place in the local environment, and a passion and vigilance for that environment.
These works will be at the Frameworks through August. Contact the gallery for more information.
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