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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Slayton: Landscape Art Show

It’s tempting to consign landscape art to the past, and think of it as somehow old-fashioned, or at least considerably less than cutting-edge. But a new exhibit, entitled “Eyes on the Land,” now on display at the Shelburne Museum, proves that that doesn’t have to be so. In this show, Vermont artists have rethought what landscapes are and what they might mean.Videos, aural recordings, maps of various sorts, photography, and fabric art share space with traditional oil and watercolor paintings – outnumber them, in fact. There’s nothing passé about “Eyes on the Land.” It’s a lively and thoughtful show with a message about the value – perhaps one should say the values – of Vermont’s open lands.

The Vermont Land Trust, in collaboration with Shelburne Museum, commissioned 13 Vermont artists to spend a year contemplating specific parcels of land conserved by the Land Trust. Each artist was paired with a particular tract of land, and, not surprisingly, each artist reacted differently, producing radically different works of art.

Perhaps most traditional is Charlie Hunter’s trio of large oil paintings, which depict three conserved farms in Putney and Westminster. Yet while his technique is representational, his flattened perspective and reduced tonal palette move the paintings subtly toward abstraction.

There are plenty of contenders in this show for “most innovative.” Cameron Davis’s semi-abstract oil of apple orchards, paired with sealed votives of golden hard cider, and Bonnie Acker’s pairing of paper collage and fabric in her depiction of farm worker Angus Baldwin harvesting tomatillos are both different and highly effective at conveying to the viewer their affection for the working lands they visited.

And Brian Collier’s humorous “Goat Boat” – a prototype of a floating pasture – manages to bring some wit to the dreadful reality of global climate change.

There’s just too much in this show to encompass in a short description. The unifying thread woven through every one of these fascinating visual essays is a deep affection for their particular piece of land, and for working lands in general. The result is a reinterpretation and revitalizing of an artistic format that’s all too often dismissed as too tame or outmoded.

Artist Susan Abbott, an organizer of the show as well as a participating artist, has said she hopes that “Eyes on the Land” will help viewers see and appreciate Vermont’s open lands with fresh eyes. Her success is evident in every one of the 13 artist’s works now on display at the Shelburne.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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