Maril, Adams works among cap­ti­vat­ing ex­hibits

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - ELLIS WIDNER

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:

HER­MAN MARIL

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

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.

Beau­ti­ful work.

MID-SOUTH­ERN WATERCOLORISTS

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.

Her­man Maril Foun­da­tion Col­lec­tion

This ink wash on pa­per by Her­man Maril is ti­tled For­est Fig­ures. It is part of “The Strong Forms of Our Ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Trus­tees of The Ansel Adams Pub­lish­ing Rights Trust

Pine For­est in Snow was pho­tographed by Ansel Adams in 1933. It is part of the ex­hi­bi­tion “Early Works” at the Ar­kan­sas Arts Cen­ter.

(c) Wil­liam E. Davis Es­tate, Ar­kan­sas Arts Cen­ter Foun­da­tion

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.

Her­man Maril Foun­da­tion Col­lec­tion

At the Cor­ner is gouache, crayon, char­coal, ink and pen­cil on olive pa­per, cre­ated in 1939 by Her­man Maril.

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