Landscape painting is rarely a life-endangering business, but Minnesota artist Tom Maakestad definitely took some risks preparing his current show at Groveland Gallery. He’s still painting Minnesota vistas as he has for years, but from a breathtaking aerial perspective that is a breakthrough for the Marine on St. Croix artist.
Over the past year Maakestad teamed up with several avocational pilots who took him up over the Mississippi, St. Croix and Cannon rivers. They followed tributaries, dropped below the bluff line, and even glided over his parents’ farm at Nerstrand. From the air he took dozens of photos that he later used as references in composing the 30-some paintings on view.
“I also had other flights up near Marine in an old Piper Cub canvas-side, where the right door could be lowered out,” he explained recently. “I was hanging out the door taking pictures with probably 2,000 to 4,000 feet of air below me. It was exhilarating.”
A usually grounded guy, he was surprised to find “I wasn’t feeling fear hanging out of an airplane door on a strap.”
The results are well worth the risks as the paintings are among the best in his career. The bird’s-eye view flattens the landscape and gives a puzzle-like quality to river vistas where undulating blue channels thread among dappled green islands and below forested ridge lines. Wisconsin’s bluffs often dissolve in mist and the horizon line is high or missing altogether.
In his keenly observed oil-pastels “Farm Patterns” and “Spring Valley,” he injects fauvist tones — lime, chartreuse, a zip of pink, a flash of orange, a sliver of purple — into a vast panorama of summer fields and encroaching woods that dissolve into a distant haze of prairie and rain-washed sky. The clouds that scud overhead on a bright summer day fall here as soft shadows on field and forest.
Though familiar, there is a quiet grandeur to these scenes that is a bit of a wakeup call, a reminder that the world around is lush, fertile and still just shy of pristine. “Look,” they say. As the show’s title suggests, take “The Long View,” in time, and space and life.
In the adjacent Groveland Annex, Northfield-based painter Wendell Arneson delivers an impressive set of crisp, engaging abstractions. Though nonrepresentational, they are deftly grounded in “A Sense of Place,” as the show is called. That’s most evident in recurrent motifs — arrows, outlines of boats and birdhouses, silhouettes of figures, outlines of heads or torsos — that flicker through layers and splashes of paint.
The paintings are visually arresting thanks to Arneson’s keen designs and audacious color. In “Lazarus’ Staff,” for example, a small human silhouette hovers upside down amid a welter of dark stripes and a splash of pink overlaid by a ragged frame of lime. Though almost invisible, the figure is a quietly brooding presence in the controlled chaos of an exploding world.
In “Island Road,” two beaky heads, elderly and aloof, turn away from each other in a miasma of drips and spatters. Only a hand as sure as Arneson’s could maintain the psychological tension and abstract clarity of these images.
Both shows end June 6, free. Groveland Gallery and Annex, 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. 612-377-7800 or www.grovelandgallery.com
Dark humor at Bockley Gallery
What would Noah do?
Faced with rising seas, a modern Noah might follow artist Colin Matthes’ instructions for “Making a Boat From the Ruins of a Gas Station.”
That daft concept is among a dozen or so goofy but engaging ideas that the Milwaukee-based artist has written and illustrated in DIY-manual style in his show of “Instructional and Flood Resistant Work” at Bockley Gallery. The darkly amusing exhibit includes a couple of paintings and a small, highly impractical raft.
Kept afloat on foam pool-noodles, Matthes’ raft is way too fragile and underequipped for survival at sea. Scrawled on its sail is the menu for a lavish cruise-ship dinner, plus little painted vignettes of inspirational luxuries — martinis, cigars — designed to motivate the desperate to paddle harder.
Matthes’ humor is bleak but undeniably apt at a time when every newscast carries stories of refugees — from civil and religious wars, failed states, devastated economies — struggling to reach safety in rickety boats on roiling seas. As a metaphor, his raft pretty much nails the problems and paradoxes of contemporary life, where the proverbial 1 percenters cruise by munching tenderloin while the masses flounder.
Elsewhere he offers post-apocalypse survival tips for butchering small game (pull out entrails with your fingers), catching fish (make hooks from thorns), breaking down a door (kick, don’t use shoulder), purifying water, encoding messages, hot-wiring a car, and so on.
The very implausibility of this Boy Scout advice in a tenuously wired world just highlights our mutual vulnerability. He pegs style and concept together perfectly with ragged, rough-lettered penmanship, deft but scratchy drawings and scrap-work constructions. Matthes’ project is intentionally humorous, of course, but unsettling too.
Ends June 13, free. Bockley Gallery, 2123 W. 21st St., Mpls. 612-377-4669 or www.bockleygallery.com