A cut of nature, excised from reality and transported to a gallery wall.
That’s what’s in store this week at Tayloe Piggott Gallery, where two shows are set to open today featuring artists Eric Aho and Jason Middlebrook.
Aho’s “River Line” is his second show at the gallery and explores the experience of man in nature through naturalistic, abstract paintings.
Jason Middlebrook’s “Heading West” is his first show at the gallery. It will feature painted planks and slabs of timber that he paints with dynamic depictions of natural elements.
There will be a public reception to celebrate the openings from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. The shows run through Sept. 22.
Aho’s paintings often show nature cut through with a line.
There is a horizontal band at the bottom of each of his paintings, representing a body of water, a field or a road.
Another line that makes an appearance in these paintings is a thin one that appears to float in mid-air — it’s a representation of his wife Rachel’s fishing line. Often the couple will spend time on the river; he’ll stay put and paint and she’ll wander out and fish.
Periodically, his wife will cast her fishing line right through Aho’s field of vision, disrupting his perspective. He welcomes the disruption and its reminder of human connection.
“This human intervention snaps me out of one reality into another,” he said. “The line, it’s an element of drawing, it’s something very lyrical.”
Aho strives to depict nature at its most sublime, beautiful and unreachable. His large canvases have an immersive quality, and his abstractions of nature render them more universal and larger than his individual experience with the landscapes.
“The landscape is not a backdrop — it’s where all the human drama unfolds,” he said. “We’re set upon it. With that in mind, I try to put myself and the viewer right in the middle of it.”
The interruptions in his paintings — the lines, the trees blocking the viewer from seeing the sky — are all manifestations of the difficulty of connecting with the sublime.
He hopes that people experience his paintings not merely as decorative objects but as forces of nature. In Aho’s work the two are inextricable concepts. His paintings are on one hand naturalistic, and on the other abstract artistic gestures.
“I want you to feel like you’re in a forest,” he said, “but I also want you to feel like you’re in a painting.”
Accompanying his exhibition is an essay by writer and outdoorsman Tim Weed reflecting on Aho’s work.
Ultimately, Aho is dedicated to furthering his work to create a complete sensory experience. That goal has become more than an interest — it’s his life’s work.
And, while it is something that he strives for, and occasionally sees in “glimpses of possibility,” he does not believe he has reached that point yet.
“It’s always just around the corner,” he said. “There’s some other nuisance that’s in the way, an interruption of my own making. To paint with a certain clarity, it just takes a while. That’s what makes it hard.”
Though his technique has changed, Aho’s essential impulse hasn’t: It’s to step out into the natural world and create a visual and personal record.
He sees his role as an artist as an obligation to observe and document nature. In his role as a painter he acts as a dutiful witness, whether it’s recording the arresting splendor of a sight like the Grand Canyon or right in his Vermont backyard.
“Standing in that field year after year after year, witnessing the changes in climate and temperature, these things add up to an act of witness,” he said. “I feel like standing out there actually does matter. Painting these things actually does matter.”
Art questions place
Wood artist Jason Middlebrook’s goal is to present the viewer with thought-provoking work. He wants to make people stop and reflect on what’s on top of the wood.
“I kind of want people to reflect on the history of the wood. My paintings are just a layer [on top] — like I am just visiting on the Earth,” Middlebrook said.
The title “Heading West” is charged for Middlebrook. For him “heading west” means heading to the future. He said it is a rite of passage for all Americans to head west.
Middlebrook spent time in Wyoming growing up. He traveled through Jackson Hole in the 1970s with his parents. While in Jackson they became friends with Middlebrook’s definition of the real McCoy of the West, a friend who went by the name Timber Jack Joe.
“Jack was probably in his late 60s, and I truly believed he was closest I would ever get to a real, live Western archetype, a survivor of the forgotten ways that made Wyoming the mystic West that I knew from films like ‘Little Big Man,’” Middlebrook said. “He wore a grizzly bear claw necklace and all his pelts hung from the side of his cabin. He claimed to have never been in a grocery store.”
Middlebrook believes that the West and his artworks have something in common: They both have an essence of natural beauty and mysticism.
Middlebrook’s mother was a botanist and his dad was an established sculptor. Today his works, made of pieces of tree stumps, either tall vertical planks or horizontal slices, seem to include aspects of both his parents’ professions. After choosing the wood he carves his design — floral or geometric, mainly — on the surface and then paints it. The vertical planks are meant to lean against the wall and occupy space on the floor and the wall.
“That way it is like a painting and sculpture,” Middlebrook said.
Middlebrook now lives in upstate New York, where he finds his wood, though he grew up in California. He is inspired by the Northeast’s scenery, as well as the wood itself.
His studio is on a creek. He claims he can look out the window and 1,000 things will inspire him.
Middlebrook works to create a balance between the grain and paint in his works.
“Every piece is unique, but it’s all a response to the piece of wood,” Middlebrook said. ￼