Maril, Adams works among captivating exhibits
It’s art in abundance.
The walls of the Arkansas Arts Center are loaded with four exhibitions. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take in three exhibits with a shared thread of American modernism: an influential Baltimore painter, an icon of American photography and the stunning creativity of a Little Rock photographer.
And if that’s not enough, lovers of watercolors will also find plenty to admire.
All four shows hang through April 16. Here’s a closer look:
While Herman Maril’s name may not be familiar, the Baltimore-born artist’s work will resonate with anyone who appreciates American modernism. Maril’s art is most often inspired and rooted in the natural world, as much of his work is seascapes, landscapes and urban scenes.
While influences from European cubism and abstract expressionism are evident, Maril (1908-1986) took those influences and found his uniquely American viewpoint. His work was particularly inspired by his hometown and Cape Cod, where he vacationed often.
Maril’s lyrical style reaches for the essence of his subject, so it is generally free of unneeded details. By embracing simpler forms, he leads the viewer to share and experience harmony and beauty.
Ann Prentice Wagner, curator of drawings at the Arts Center,
curated this exhibition. “The Strong Forms of Our Experience” was organized by the University of Maryland Art Gallery in association with the Arts Center. Maril taught at the university for more than three decades, and Wagner received her doctorate in art history there.
This appealing exhibition consists mostly of Maril’s works on paper — ink and wash drawings, gouaches, watercolors and prints, and some oils. The show embraces the depth of Maril’s career as it surveys his work from the 1920s through the 1980s. Wagner, who researched this project over a seven year period, also wrote the catalog.
Maril’s work has an undeniable appeal. The simplicity of his forms make such modernist works as 1958’s Tree Dune Forms, a gouache and crayon on brown paper, and 1954’s Hurricane, an oil on canvas, absorbing abstractions. At the Corner, a 1939 gouache, crayon, charcoal, ink and pencil work on olive paper, is more representational as it reflects troubled economic times. His 1975 oil White Moon and Sea and the 1978 oil Silent Vista show the influence of his friend Mark Rothko.
The artist was particularly bold and free with inks and ink washes. The Forest, a 1967 ink wash with pencil, shows a Japanese influence. That influence seems less in 1973’s powerful Forest Figures and 1975’s Dragging, which depicts a fisherman dragging in his nets. He approaches one landscape with different media, both to great effect. Bluff and Sea, a watercolor and pencil on paper, and Dunes, an ink wash with pencil on paper, were completed in 1981.
Also impressive is 1985’s Black Bird, an ink wash with ballpoint pen on paper.
As enriching at Maril’s other work is, it is the energetic inks and washes that haunt the viewer after leaving the exhibition.
Ansel Adams is undoubtedly the most familiar photographer in American art. His images have flooded popular awareness for decades in a multitude of calendars,
journals, note cards, books and posters, along with periodic touring exhibits.
What makes the exhibition “Early Works” so special is the too-rare opportunity to experience Adams’ beginnings as a photographer.
The show is especially important because not only did Adams take these pictures, he printed them. It reminds us that a photographer’s vision doesn’t stop at the shutter, but continues into the darkroom, where an image can be tweaked and reinterpreted.
Adams was initially dismissed by many modernists in the early 1930s who saw his emphasis on nature as just “rocks and trees.” But as several works in this exhibition show, he was in fact a modernist in his approach to photography. In 1936, the once- skeptical, influential photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who operated the first modern art gallery in the country, gave Adams a one-man
show and praised his work as “some of the greatest photography I’ve ever seen.”
Adams said he wanted to become “intimate with the spirit of wild places” and share his experience of nature with people through his photography. He and writer Rachel Carson ( Silent Spring) are responsible, in many ways, for the modern conservation movement.
“Early Days” shows just how successful Adams’ approach to photography was. Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Sierra Nevada, California, taken in 1932, is regarded as perhaps his greatest abstraction. Adams’ spiritual connection to nature captivates viewers of such masterworks as Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, a 1927 image that he printed in two versions. Both are shown here. The 1927 version is warmer and smaller than a print from 1940.
Mount Williamson, From Manzanar was taken in 1944 when he was photographing the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar, Calif. This arresting landscape, with boulders in the foreground, is an astonishing view of nature’s radiance.
Another masterwork is the beloved Moonrise, Hernandez,
New Mexico, from 1941.
This is a deeply moving exhibition. Take time to soak it in.
WILLIAM E. DAVIS
A splendid show of works by Little Rock photographer William E. Davis, who died last year, hangs in the Arts Center’s atrium.
The black-and-white gelatin silver prints are technically superb. A few show some inspiration from Adams, particularly in the intimacy of Davis’ nature photos such as 3 Beech Trees, Washington. His Wall #3, Fort Bowie, Arizona, from 1993, suggests a connection to Adams’ photographs of the Ranchos de Taos church in New Mexico.
Williams’ 1996 image 9 Hay Bales, Arkansas, taps the same sensibility that surfaces in Arkansas artist George Dombek’s barn paintings.
Davis also has a contemporary art relevance, particularly in works such as the meditative and abstract Idea in Situ, Arkansas and Gang of Four. The former especially seems to invite a spiritual context. His Feather Fan, Arkansas, from 1996, focuses laser-like on lines, shadows and light, and texture.
The “Mid-Southern Watercolorists 47th Annual Juried Exhibition” underscores the versatility of watercolor in works that range from representational to the abstract.
Some high points include Charlotte Rierson’s mysterious landscape Enchanted City, inspired by a visit to Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park by the Fairfield Bay artist. Nancy Farrell of Ozark created a cool abstraction in the uplifting Transcending From Turbulent Storms to Sunshine, while Gary Weeter of Hot Springs Village presented a rural landscape of a deteriorating building seemingly guarded by a large tree in Seen Better Days.
If the exhibition had given an award for best storytelling, Ronald Kincaid’s Honeymoon Over would be tough to beat. A couple sits at a small table in a cafe; he’s absorbed in his book, she seems lost in thought or feeling a sense of bittersweet resignation or longing that things are not what they were. The man seems oblivious to the drama across the table. The Benton artist’s work splendidly suggests a number of possible scenarios, depending on the viewer.
This ink wash on paper by Herman Maril is titled Forest Figures. It is part of “The Strong Forms of Our Experience.”
Pine Forest in Snow was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1933. It is part of the exhibition “Early Works” at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Little Rock photographer William E. Davis photographed Century Plant (California) in 1993. It is a gelatin silver print and is on exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center.
At the Corner is gouache, crayon, charcoal, ink and pencil on olive paper, created in 1939 by Herman Maril.