News Column

On the urban edge with three Minnesota painters

May 29, 2014

By Mary Abbe, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)



May 29--With its countless lakes, rolling farmland and pine-clad north, Minnesota's natural landscape is a perennial enticement to artists eager to escape the urban hustle for tranquil air and cricket calls. Those vistas are not immune, though, to the encroachment of housing projects, shopping malls, warehouses and gritty industrial sites. Both of those landscapes -- rural and urban, natural and built -- are limned by three state painters in fine shows now on view at Minneapolis galleries.

Groveland Gallery and Annex

Finding a world of natural beauty in western Hennepin County last summer, Larry Hofmann transformed it into "Discoveries From the Car Window" at Groveland's Annex gallery. In 14 paintings he depicts scenes spied while driving down country lanes on still evenings when the sun's last light rakes the fields and marshes with a particular luminosity.

The Mankato native, who still owns family farmland near Janesville, has been painting such vistas for more than 30 years and knows that light well. Connoisseurs of Hofmann's paintings appreciate the extraordinary atmospheric effects he captures when describing, typically, a low marsh or grassy field edged by distant trees under an open sky unmarked by even a whiff of cloud or turbulence.

Often there is a lone tree or shrub near the center of his pictures. Single trees do grow that way in the natural world, setting down roots and spreading their branches apart from the tangled thickets nearby. They don't occur as often in nature, however, as they do in Hofmann's paintings. A psychologist might even see self-portraits in his recurrent bits of independent greenery. Still, rather than overinterpret, it's best to simply admire the nuance in his mesmerizing images, which are really tonal compositions about the play of light on the natural world.

Depending on the time of day, the humidity and the season, he washes his landscapes with warm light or cool tones, coloring the sky peach, aqua or celadon and the landscape with dusky sage, deep olive or bright chartreuse. For all their superficial similarities, each of Hofmann's pictures is a fresh marvel of meditation.

Michael Banning teaches in Chicago but seems to have left his heart in the Twin Cities, where he lived for a decade and whose industrial outskirts are the subjects of his "City's Edge" show at Groveland. While Hofmann's images are studies in tone, Banning's can be read as lessons in perspective.

The towered skyline of downtown Minneapolis is the distant focal point of several paintings, glimmering at the juncture where a cracked ribbon of asphalt disappears into its heart. In the foreground, shrubs or clumps of grass or graffiti-ed semitrailers slumber in industrial parking lots under still summer skies or in brooding winter light. Though executed with photorealist precision, Banning's images are warmer and more painterly than that label implies, whether he's capturing the watery luminosity of melting snow or the blue shadows of dirt heaps on the city's industrial edge.

Noon to 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. through June 7 -- Free -- 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. -- 612-377-7800 -- www.grovelandgallery.com

Flanders Gallery

In "Paradise, Paved," Scott Lloyd Anderson scrutinizes the unlovely parking lots, traffic signs, fast-food joints, tract houses, gas stations, convenience stores, big-box emporiums, awkward planters and exuberant signage of suburbia. These are aggressively charmless vistas, cluttered with arrows, barricades, bumpers, hoses, trash cans, traffic cones and other eyesores that he often accentuates to humorous effect.

In "Utility Box" he dwarfs a new home by front-and-centering the oversized power cube that supplies its essential energy. "Shadows on Top of the Ramp" features the back ends of cars and the bulbous shadows they cast on a sweltering summer day. "Blue Sign" highlights a bright rectangle of color in a monotonous parking grid on a gray day.

Anderson's sketchy style and schematic subjects challenge conventional notions of what a landscape might be. But, as he says, "Why not?"

11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tue.-Sat. through July 5 -- Free -- 818 W. Lake St., Mpls -- 612-791-1285 -- www.flandersart.com

Mary.Abbe@startribune.com -- 612-673-4431

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(c)2014 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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