A group show at Chicago Art Source Gallery reveals the reflective side of nature.
Artists have incorporated nature in art for centuries. Some artists today use art to draw awareness to environmental issues. Impressionists captured landscapes, public recreation in city and country life and atmospheric effects and industry, among other scenes. Notably, though, Romantic artists depicted nature’s power, extremes and volatility — reacting to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on order and the consequences of the French Revolution, explains the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The thirty-some paintings that make up “Nature Transformed” at Chicago Art Source Gallery seem to respond to global events through nature once again. Today’s world is plagued by global distress with issues surrounding immigration and the Syrian Civil War as of late. Instead of the imagination and emotional fervor that filled Romantic paintings, “Nature Transformed” offers a quieting, transcendental experience — suitable for poignant times.
This group show features artworks by Jackie Battenfield, Elise Morris, Sara Schneckloth and Yvette Weijergang. Although each artist offers distinct interpretations, the plurality of voices is harmonized through the contemplative, often abstract, renditions of nature. Instead of a glorious mountain range, for example, Schneckloth’s “Batir — Wall VII” greets the visitor with an earthy palette and micro segments recalling fragments of rocks, mountains and other natural phenomena. Almost immediately, the colors and non-uniform shapes evoke thoughts of the Rocky Mountains or Grand Tetons — not for their grandiose aesthetic value, but for the recollection of peacefulness that being in the mountains brings.
The exhibition also marks a parallel between art and natural processes. Elise Morris’s “Winding Ways III” makes clear her multiple artistic layers through faint traces of outlines and strata of color. Her technique seems to parallel nature itself: evolving over time.
One of the joys of the show is the opportunity to see Jackie Battenfield paintings of colored branches and leaves radiating against stark white backgrounds. Her fascination with these properties of nature grew after a “rural meditation retreat” during the 1990s, the artist recounts on her website. “As my city mindset quieted, I was transfixed as tender buds and leaves daily transformed a gnarly elm tree outside.” Her approach seems simple: large-scale, close-up renderings of branches and leaves. But the effect is quite powerful. The frantic pace of Chicago’s city life ceases in front of her paintings. The visitor gives in to their calming quality, and is captivated by the artist’s distinct representation: the leaves have a translucent quality, almost like an x-ray.
It is helpful to recall the show’s title when viewing it. “Nature Transformed” coincides with the changing of seasons: summer turning to fall. Some of the images remind visitors of that: shades of green, white and hints of brown suggest a blooming azalea in Morris’s “Pale Blaze II” and “Pale Blaze I.” At the same time, not only is nature transformed, but the visitor is too. Given the gallery’s Chicago location, a show about nature is an opportunity for visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of the city to indulge in the solitude and introspective characteristics nature brings.
Above all, “Nature Transformed” is refreshing. The mostly abstract paintings included in this exhibition encourage visitors to consider nature on different terms: beyond the beauty of nature’s delineated forms and towards its reflective qualities. This is an apt strategy in a world inundated with global challenges and discord.
“Nature Transformed” is on show at Chicago Art Source Gallery until November 14.