by Laurel Hunter
Why does it make perfect sense for a performance and installation artist from Los Angeles to have an exhibition of paintings in rural Utah? Elizabeth Tremante’s Inside the Landscape, at the Central Utah Art Center through November 14, showcases a series of paintings and drawings that study the natural landscape, specifically as nature intersects with manmade structures. The works are close-ups and blow-ups of that intersection: hogweed, dandelions, puddles, wire, piles. They are also art historical studies: geometric abstraction meets the history of landscape painting. Think Thomas Moran meets Sol Lewitt. While Tremante explores the tradition of observation in landscape painting, she also embraces a more contemporary visual language of abstraction. Her paintings inspect places were nature is rural – touched and utilized. The human presence intersects with the natural environment. Weeds meet piles, fabric meets barbed wire fences, string meets grass. Landscape painting meets abstraction.
The largest painting in the show, “Weeds, Piles” clearly demonstrates Tremante’s dedication to observation.|0| Dandelions the size of dinner plates thrust forward from the picture plane, each petal clearly defined. Behind these an organic pile with a geometric gray echo of this pile occupies the left side of the canvas. While the scale of this painting pushes the limits of CUAC’s walls, it is magnetic. The dandelions (something I’ve always liked, maybe since I’ve never owned my own lawn) are majestic, giving a distorted sense of scale. The piles look like mountains, but wait – dandelions are small. Still, I feel like I am looking at the last remaining pre-historic dandelions, the winners at the state fairs. I am looking closely at a neglected weed in front of a lumpy brown rock and an elegant geometric stony mountain oversees it all.
Perhaps the most beautiful painting in the show, “Hogweed,” demonstrates Tremante’s interest in both abstraction and landscape most directly. An Agnes Martin-esque fence on a white background is dominated by a chandelier of hogweed that pushes through it. How can such a beautiful blossom have such an ugly name? In Tremante’s painting, is light and beautifully rendered, lifting upwards and away from the grid that holds it.
“Tangled Twine” is a composition of brilliant green, charming grasses bending forward that are intentionally wrapped with a bright red line, carefully creating the geometry of triangles and shapes reminiscent of Jacob’s ladder string game. But here, the geometry returns to the organic in its reflection in the puddle painted below the grasses.
Perhaps my favorite piece in the show is a graphite drawing of burlap tangled in some barbed wire fencing. There is so much tension and drama in the marks, the careful detail, the pinning of the fabric while it deteriorates and pulls.
Tremante’s paintings reflect scenes that I witnessed over and over on my visit to Sanpete County – weeds in fields reaching through fences. An unusual blossom next to a trail marked by the deep muddy footprints of hunters. As I hiked the area, I started to see compositions reminiscent of her work. Tremante has a tremendous understanding and compassion for the incidental in rural life. I hope those that live the rural life see the beauty in the details that Tremante has painted for them.
Inside the Landscape continues at the Central Utah Art Center through November 14.