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Minnesota’s Tradition of Outdoor Painting Thrives

Sunset No. 1: Artist Point, by Neil Sherman

Despite Minnesota’s notorious climate—freezing winters and muggy, mosquito-ridden summers—there has always been a tradition of artists working outdoors, en plein air. In the 19th and 20th centuries, artists like Josephine Lutz Rollins, Alexis Jean Fournier, Elisabeth Chant and Samuel Chatwood Burton preserved, in their oils, watercolors and etchings, landscapes of a Minnesota few would recognize today.

Fortunately, contemporary Minnesota artists are continuing the tradition of painting outdoors. “New Urban & Rural Landscapes,” a gem of a show that opened at the Grand Hill Gallery on December 1st, features original works of Joshua Cunningham, Neil Sherman, Richard Abraham and Stuart Loughridge, landscape and plein air artists who capture the light, atmosphere and color of Minnesota and Wisconsin’s cities, farms, rivers, mountains and forests.

Joshua Cunningham’s “Minneapolis at 10 Below” and “December Along the Trimbelle” are fine winter scenes with pitch-perfect values. “Minneapolis at 10 Below” vibrates with energy, despite the muted colors, thanks to the colorful left-to-right diagonals of trees and autos that counter the solid masses of buildings in the background. “December Along the Trimbelle” is an exquisite display of light and shadow that brings out the subtle nuances of winter’s colors.   

Neil Sherman is best known for his scenes of Grand Marais and the North Shore. “Sunset No. 1: Artist Point” was the Quick Paint winner at the 9th Annual Plein Air Painting Competition held in Grand Marais in September 2011. Sherman’s sense of nature’s dynamism is evident in his landscapes. The rugged rocks in “Sunset No. 1: Artist Point,” flecked with the last remnants of light as the sun disappears beyond the horizon, pulsate with life. In “Smoking Clouds,” Sherman balances high-intensity colors in a dramatic sky. Awed by nature’s grandeur, we barely notice the tiny figure of a camper in the left foreground.

Richard Abraham is the most representational of the four artists. The gently rolling hills of “A Farm in Spring” depict the tranquility and slow awakening of a farm—the essence of Midwestern life—as the last traces of snow melt into green pastures. In “Intimate,” Abraham’s brush is looser, casting flecks of yellow leaves over bushes and boulders on the water’s edge. It’s a dynamic moment in time, and thoroughly reveals Abraham’s sensitivity towards nature.

Stuart Loughridge’s intaglios lace the exhibition with delicate scenes, rich in detail and demonstrating a masterful handling of light, shadow, values and perspective. The “Stone Arch Bridge,” “Hilltop” and “Chinatown, NY” are reminiscent of the best prints Minnesota artists like Samuel Chatwood Burton have produced historically. Loughridge packs drama into every stroke. In “Hilltop,” you can feel and hear the wind blowing through the bushes and tall grass. Loughridge’s watercolors, “Creek” and “Quiet Waters,” display vibrant colors and delicate brushwork.

“New Urban & Rural Landscapes” is an exhibition not to miss if you are interested in Minnesota’s artistic legacy of landscape and plein air painting, and how that legacy is being carried forward today. The exhibition will run through January 7, 2012.

Joshua Cunningham,

Neil Sherman,

Richard Abraham,

Stuart Loughridge,

Grand Hill Gallery

333 Grand Avenue, Suite 101

St. Paul, MN 55102