Landscapes real and imagined

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Margaret Wall-Romana

Memento Lucem (Remember the Light) [detail], 2010

Oil on panel

58 x 133 x 2 in.

Walk into the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and you will find two very different bodies of work hanging on the walls. But spend a little time with them both and you may find yourself pondering similar questions.

Margaret Wall-Romana’s work is lush and breathtaking to behold. Her giant canvases are rich with imagery – primarily plantlife – in various states of growth and decay. MAEP coordinator Christopher Atkins says Wall-Romana’s work combines everything from naturalism to abstract expressionism, surrealism and color fields:

Margaret’s work is really formal – she sustains a sense of history and technique that I don’t see very often in painters in this town. She’s very much a large scale studio artist, playing with scale, and creating these intricate structures from bones, wood and plants around her.

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Margaret Wall-Romana

Towards & Away, 2010

Oil on panel

46 x 116 x 2 in.

Wall-Romana’s work draws you in to explore her compositions that are both gorgeous and other-worldly. If you pay close attention you can even see the strokes of her palette knife across the canvas.

Peter Happel Christian, by contrast is a photographer who’s work, while beautiful, is more conceptual and minimalist. In a series of photographs called “Blackholes and Blindspots” Happel Christian purposefully blacks out the very center of each image. By obscuring the focal point, he’s actually making us look harder at an image of an urban landscape that we might otherwise take for granted.

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Peter Happel Christian

Blackholes and Blindspots (No. 8), 2010

Chromogenic print

8 x 11 in.

For Happel Christian, the artwork is as much an embodiment of the artistic process and his own questions than it is a final product. For his work “Witness Tree” he went back to his childhood home and took a myriad of photographs of the redbud tree his parents planted around the same time Happel Christian was born. In essence the tree is a marker of his own life. But, according to Atkins, when it came to really capturing the tree and what it represented, Happel Christian felt any one photograph was lacking, so instead took a picture of all of the photographs bound together. He’s basically saying “this is not the definitive image.”

Christopher Atkins says it’s that artistic inquiry that drives Happel Christian’s work throughout:

He really takes an idea and explores it in depth in a variety of ways, whether it’s through photography or installation pieces. You can look at his work and see beautiful photographs, but what’s important for him is that the idea underneath is clear as well.

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Peter Happel Christian

Witness Tree, 2010

Chromogenic print

15 x 13 in

So while Margaret Wall-Romana’s paintings are sensual and expansive, Happel Christian’s work is more of an intellectual pursuit, bringing our attention down to a single point.

Upon further contemplation, however, these two artists are similarly preoccupied with the natural landscape, and how we manipulate it. They both seek to capture the eye of their viewers – one by creating lush landscapes, the other by thwarting our initial attempts and making us look harder. Each are passionate about their pursuits – one through technique and form, the other in concept and method.

“Painting Before and After Words: Maragaret Wall-Romana” and “Ground Truth: Works by Peter Happel Christian” are both on view in the MAEP galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through April 3.

  • C Campbell

    Once again the MAEP program has plugged in to the University faculty system for its exhibition. While the large painitings are beautiful and have scale, the photographs are thin. Trying to create validity through a study of a tree as metaphor for a life or memory falls short. “Minnesota nice”or better known as “middle of the road” is well represented by this MAEP show as “pretty” and a vain attempt at the cerebral. Is this the best representation of the art scene in the twin cities?

  • Emily

    I completely disagree with your belief that Romana’s paintings are “pretty and a vain attempt at the cerebral.” While her paintings do have a very “pretty” aspect to them, she uses this prettiness to elaborate her ideas on life and death.