Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

G. Russell Case Retrospective Portrays an Emotive Painter in Love with the Land

“Moon Rise, Great Salt Lake” 40 x 30 in.

Where mountains stretch across the canvas, clouds roll across the ridgeline, dissipating into whispy streaks of white. A full moon rises through the clouds in the delicate hours before darkness takes over. Filling the foreground of the painting, Great Salt Lake’s blue tones reach out to the viewer, interrupted here and there by small stretches of land with yellow plant life that reach across the edges of the water. The painting is serene and quite, a feeling that is increased by a bird, possibly a great blue heron, that glides softly across the image. “Moon Rise, Great Salt Lake,” is the work of G. Russell Case, whose art is currently on display in the Sears Art Museum at Utah Tech University until Sep. 2.

Born in Cedar City, but currently living in Northern Utah, Case is inspired by the world around him, often painting scenes surrounding rural Utah towns. He paints both en plein air and in his studio, focusing his interpretations of the land not on a literal translation but on the emotions present. His works are bright, and the colors, while earth-toned, are often vibrant. Case says he hopes that his work can help quiet the minds of those who view it and stand as a reminder of the beauty and wonder that surrounds us here in Utah.

From the snow-capped mountains of Honeyville to the red rock mesas of Hurricane, the landscapes surrounding Utah’s rural towns, in all their forms, appear along the walls of the Sears Art Museum. In “Autumn Splendor” a clear pastel blue sky quietly fades into pink evening hues and a translucent moon sits in the sky waiting for the darkness of night to arrive. A setting sun highlights the layered Honeyville mountains, the dusk of the evening beginning to take over the few houses that sit at its base. The highest peaks and deep grooves are white with snow while the lower portions are blanketed with patches of green. The scene is calm and stands in lovely contrast to Case’s red rock works like “Rain on Gooseberry Mesa.” This energetic mesa is nestled in between Hurricane and Zion’s national park. In this painting, the mesa is seen from a distance. The foreground is filled with green plant life that is occasionally interrupted by small patches of red dirt. The mesa itself is a beautiful earthy red with a large white stripe that runs horizontally through the rock formation. Small figures can be seen in the midground, emphasizing the immensity of the mesa. Clouds fill the sky and, as rain does at a distance, look like they are reaching down to touch the earth below. The earth and sky connect in a beautiful but obscure dance of water and earth. One can almost smell the rain mixing with the dirt and inviting the viewer to move in closer and experience the rain and mesa together.

“Rain on Gooseberry Mesa” 18 x 30 in.

Case is a man of all seasons, as shown in “Mantua Winter.” Tucked away between the mountains of Sardine Canyon in northern Utah is the small town of Mantua. Here Case shows a blanket of white and bluish snow surrounding little yellow and red houses. Brownish trees, largely devoid of their leaves poke up from the snow stretching over the cozy homes. The bottom of the mountain is seen in the background stretching up and off the canvas. The snow looks fresh with no signs of footfall or tire tracks yet running through it, the biting cold ushering people into the warmth of their homes.

While Case’s works are all based in Utah many are not readily identifiable with specific locations. In these cases, it can be fun to imagine where one might find a similar scene in this beautiful state. “Sunflowers” is a bright and cheerful painting in which a towering mountain cascades down to a small red building that is framed by the tall, bright yellow sunflowers that stand in the foreground of the painting. The sunflowers and red building are focused on the left side of the canvas leaving the right to open up to a large field. The work calls to mind the more idealized times of life when spirits are high and the earth smiles upon those who stop to enjoy its many wonders.

“Fire and Rain” 11 x 14 in.

Like “Rain on Gooseberry Mesa,” “Fire and Rain” highlights the beautiful red rock of southern Utah but leaves the viewer unsure about where exactly this landscape can be found. The focus of this work is a mesa or plateau with a flat top. The top half of the landform is steep and straight but this suddenly gives way to a sloped form that extends to the flat landscape below. Red dirt and yellowish plant life take up the foreground of the image. Slight downward strokes of blue and white in the sky reference a delicate rain that is falling in the distance. “Fire and Rain” is a simple yet lively work with bright red and yellow tones that draw the viewer in and recall the dry heat and beating sun of southern Utah.

Unlike many of Case’s works, “Pond Reflections” has no mountain or mesa in sight. This painting of a wooded forest and a murky pond looks as though it would be tucked away along the trail of a mountain hike. The tops of the trees are cut off at the top of the canvas but their thin trunks can be seen meeting the earth and their needled laden arms stick out in a dense forest of dark green. These trees also reflect in the pond where a few lazy logs float still and undisturbed in the water. Again a simple image but with its title in hand, the image feels more like an invitation. Not only can this title refer to the literal reflection of the trees in the pond but also a personal reflection. An invite to take pause at this lovely scene and reflect on one’s own life and the grandeur of the world around us.

“Pond Reflections,” 11 x 14 in.

Russell Case’s work will feel familiar and comfortable to anyone who has called the many landscapes of Utah home. His works feel peaceful and quiet but not timid or demure. They speak to the passion of the earth and the wonder of nature that creates dynamic landforms and vibrant colors. Case’s works stand as an invitation to pause and reflect in a world where our minds are so often muddled and distracted by the ebbs and flows of our daily lives.

Utah North to South: G. Russell Case, Sears Art Museum, St. George, through Sep. 2

1 reply »

  1. I enjoy all my colleagues’ perspectives, and always look forward to Jesslyn Low’s well-informed and eloquently phrased insights. Because 15 Bytes has covered Russell Case twice recently in two very different venues, we have here a chance to compare a gallery’s and a museum’s approaches to the same subject. Low’s response to a monumental undertaking—the retrospective on an artist’s career—spans years of work and miles of subject matter. The Erickson Gallery show we covered a few months ago allows a closer look into a corner of the same body of work. Each is a valuable point of view, each is essential in its own way.

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