Works by seven Wisconsin artists turn the walls at James Watrous Gallery into the very thing the space's latest exhibition is titled: Inhabited Landscapes. The group show's contributors include artists represented by Milwaukee's Tory Folliard Gallery, such as Wisconsin Triennial exhibitor Charles Munch and Madison-based painter Dennis Nechvatal.
One of Nechvatal's paintings, Meditative Zone, has been loaned to the gallery by former UW chancellor John Wiley, who is both a physicist and a metal sculptor. This intricate, delicate-looking piece contrasts with Wiley's large metal works, many of which can survive in rain, snow and intense sunshine. A wooden plank adorned with acrylic paint, Meditative Zone certainly wouldn't survive the elements. Instead, it explores a different relationship between the viewer and nature. Symmetry abounds in the hundreds of green leaves that cover the ground, and even in the clouds, which are smooth ovals rather than puffy abstract shapes. A few red and yellow flowers bloom near the bottom of the scene, beside a tiny stream, but gazing upward yields an even bigger reward. While the petals and leaves in the scene's lower half teem with appealing texture, the sky above them is super sleek and a most calming shade of blue.
I also enjoyed a collection of five small oil paintings by local artist Barry Roal Carlsen. Hung in tiny, house-shaped frames with doors flung open, they present scenes of raging fires and placid waters. These pieces remind me of tiny shrines since they are mounted in the shape of a cross. Instead of honoring saints and their miracles, they consider the destructive power of humans and nature.
The topmost painting, Late Arrival, shows a man in forest, holding a bucket of water. With his back turned to the viewer, he stares at a fire creeping into the right edge of the painting. The trees beside him are being chopped down, and he seems to be pondering whether to harvest them or save them from incineration. Another piece in the series, What Was Left? II, shows a chair burning in a manmade fire. Red-hot debris jumps from the flames as the sun appears in the distance, its blaze as calm as can be.