The idea behind this exhibition, according to Nathan Foxton, who curated it, was to engage a certain group of central Indiana artists in plein air painting.
The term “plein air” harkens back to the 19th century French Impressionists who often painted outdoors in order to capture on their canvases an essence — rather than a concrete depiction — of landscapes in their natural light.
But Foxton didn’t tell the artists how to engage in this style of painting or at which step along the way to brave the elements or what subject to choose or what time to go out and observe.
Foxton has open-ended ideas about subject matter if Kelsey Blacklock’s “Cash for Gold” is any clue. “Cash for Gold” portrays a somber stand-alone store at night, sparingly lit, under a purplish sky, without even a car in the parking lot to hint at a human presence. Even the depicted restaurant in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” seems like a hopping joint in comparison. A more inspiring type of urban space is the subject of Quentin Crockett’s “SummerTimeChi,” Said subject is Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in Chicago’s Millennium Park, that enormous, upside down mirrored bean bag. There’s an unfinished quality to this mixed media painting with its pieces of tape on the canvas and provisional-looking grid lines, but these elements don’t detract from the work.
The natural world doesn’t get short shrift in this exhibit, yet there’s something supernatural about some of the depictions. Carla Knopp’s “Abandoned Shade Garden” looks like no garden that I’ve ever seen: the white flowering plant in the foreground seems as creepy as those H.R. Giger-created plants for the film “Alien.” At the same time, the flowing quality of the brushwork and the strangeness of the depicted landforms makes me think that this painting owes more to Knopp’s imagination than any plein air outing.
Tim Kennedy’s “Outing” depicts a brighter setting: a family outing at Lake Monroe while Benjamin Lowery’s “Hide and Seek” depicts a couple in a remote area playing games with each other, perhaps in malignant ways. (The figures are slightly abstracted, adding to the composition’s mysterious nature.) These latter two paintings bring masterful depictions of the human figure into this visual dialogue about the possibilities of contemporary plein air painting. And yet Quincy Owens' painting "Hallowed," with its curvilinear forms and colors suggesting a watery landscape, shows that abstract work is welcome in this particular conversation as well.
Harrison Center for the Arts (Speck Gallery) through July 29