At Large  July 1, 2020  Rachel Ozerkevich

Landscape Art as Travel: Turning to Painting for Escapism

courtesy of artist, lefoxstudio.com

Lindsey Fox, Artist Point Rise, Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades Washington, 2020.

As spring faded into summer across North America, closed borders and travel restrictions led to many canceled or postponed vacations. For many people across the United States, Canada, and much of the rest of the world, hiking, camping, and outdoor exploration has been relegated to local parks and backyards. Many states aren’t welcoming outside visitors, and the US-Canada land border remains shuttered as of June. Amid shelter-in-place orders, landscape painting presents an unexpected way to travel beyond everyday surroundings. Works of art depicting the natural world have long proven to be a source of escapism for artists and audiences alike, proving that travel doesn’t have to be a physical activity in order to be fulfilling. Contemporary artists, commercial advertising firms, and painters from previous centuries are bringing opportunities for different kinds of travel to viewers stuck close to home.

courtesy of artist, lefoxstudio.com

Lindsey Fox, Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park CA, 2019.

Portland, Oregon-based artist Lindsey Fox creates textiles and works on paper that evoke her own outdoor explorations. The artist sketches while hiking, then reworks her ideas into larger, colorful compositions back in her studio. During the pandemic, her practice has been a stand-in for the kinds of physical travel she typically engages in. Her hand-rendered views of national parks and iconic American mountain ranges transport the viewer so forcefully that it seems possible to forget about current travel restrictions when viewing them.

Across Canada, the Pattison Outdoor Advertising firm has been transforming otherwise empty billboards into public art installations. Pedestrians around the country began reporting in May that they noticed wilderness scenes appearing on otherwise empty billboards. The company’s owner has used his own works in place of typical ads to bring unexpected relief to commuters returning to work.

@weird.lndont

Contemporary and publicly-displayed landscape painting can offer the same effect as more historic and iconic works that have for decades transported viewers beyond their tangible surroundings. Canada has a long tradition of works on paper depicting fantastical, pristine, and unpopulated environments. Works by artists from both indigenous and European immigrant communities provide viewers, most of whom have historically been in urban centers, with a kind of respite through the canvas or page.

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Franklin Carmichael, Lone Lake, 1929.

The works of the Group of Seven, including Franklin Carmichael, perhaps Canada’s most well-known group of painters, depict rugged and untouched-seeming landscapes in the Canadian wilderness. These paintings are housed in museums around Canada, but still provide solace to city-bound audiences online. David Milne, working in the early and mid-twentieth century in Ontario and New England, abstracted shapes found in forests and streams into color blocks and lines. Indigenous painter Rita Letendre painted works in the mid- and late-twentieth century invoking natural and spiritual elements that seem transcendental even when viewed online.

wikimedia commons, McMichael Canadian Art Collection

David Milne, Painting Place: Brown and Black, 1926.

Landscape scenes can allow audiences at home to imagine themselves as elsewhere, whether it's transported to the scene depicted, or just to an escapist state of mind. Many contemporary and past landscape artists did and continue to do away with strictly representational color and shape; many of their works instead suggest individual perception and experience, for both the maker and viewer.

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Rita Letendre, Sunrise, 1989.

About the Author

Rachel Ozerkevich

Rachel Ozerkevich holds a PhD in Art History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's an art historian, writer, educator, and researcher currently based in eastern Washington State. Her areas of expertise lie in early illustrated magazines, sports subjects, interdisciplinary arts practices, contemporary indigenous art, and European and Canadian modernism.

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