Enjoying a 'peak experience'
A look at the landscape with artist Glen Shoemaker

 

by Jules Masterjohn

Though I’ve said this before, some things deserve repeating. We are privileged to be surrounded by awesome natural features. From the pottery of the ancestral people to the paintings of the unsettled wilderness, the Western and Southwestern topographies have inspired art-making for centuries. It is easy to understand why so many of today’s artists choose the landscape as their subject. Each from their own sensitive temperaments and through their unique “filters,” artists continue to create images that honor the beauty and majesty of the land.

In these visual celebrations, we are often shown a likeness of the land – an artist’s best effort at depicting exactly what she or he sees. The ability to exactingly reproduce the world, as ably as skill allows, is referred to as a “first filter” perspective by Durango’s cultural critic Judith Reynolds. A “recording” of what is seen, realistic portrayal is one of the most understood styles of art in America. Though I have admiration for the technical skills involved in making a likeness of something beautiful (or not), my preferences rest with art that is made using multiple lenses, or “filters.”

When artists “reorganize or rework what they see,” Reynolds says, they begin adding other “filters” or perspectives from which to experience their subject matter, and thus, to create. The more lenses an artist uses to see through, the more an artwork departs from being a reproduction of places, people and things.

For me, the departure from what is seen is when art gets really interesting. I want art to show me a different perspective on the world, to tweak my consciousness and to provoke insights about being alive. In the case of landscape painting, this overlaying of various lenses can produce images that evoke a unique and personal vision – the artist’s experience of feeling a specific place, expressed in paint on canvas.

Currently on display at the Steaming Bean are landscape paintings by Glen Shoemaker. A restaurant manager by day and painter by night, Schumacher is one of those artists who is interested in and technically able to convey, through color and composition, his internal subjective experience combined with a near realistic portrayal of the land. Hanging on the cappuccino-colored walls of the coffee house are more than a dozen works by Shoemaker. Most paintings in this selection are unified by a common theme: views seen in the high mountains of this region. A few of his larger canvases are striking for their well-crafted compositions, each depicting a dramatic whirling world above 11,000 feet.

Shoemaker’s painting “Monarch Crest” best exemplifies the odd sense of what is so palpable in the mountains above treeline, a feeling of being cocooned or wrapped between the earth and the sky. The viewer stands on a bed of talus at a fairly vertical exposure, an inviting snow-

 

covered trail follows the ridgeline into the distance, disappearing before it reaches the peak’s crest. The viewer’s perspective is grounded on the ridge, yet the ridge’s verticality sweeps downward simultaneously while the arching cirrus clouds draw up and around. Through the use of subtle compositional elements, Shoemaker has created a convincing sensory experience.

Almost dizzying, “Monarch Crest” takes me to my own edge. This internal boundary between the knowing of my invincibility and vulnerability, defines the human condition. Inside the bustling coffee house among people I do not know, standing in front of this painting, I experience being human, complete with its dichotomy. Yet, looking through Shoemaker’s “filters,” I am at peace with this only seeming contradiction, for I also get a glimpse at the truth of both these aspects of incarnation. In today’s world, there exists a tendency for the subtleties – the gray areas – to be denied, where beliefs are either right or wrong and actions either good or bad. This painting reminds me that there is much more about life than above or below. There are worlds, significant realms, in between.

Another of Shoemaker’s edgy compositions, “Sultan” places the viewer on an overlook, the steep drop to the canyon floor merely suggested at the edge of the canvas. This painting portrays the peak and its connecting ridge as a slumbering giant, the soft undulations of the flesh-colored rim seem pregnant with energy. Though this painting depicts a looming peak, there is an intimacy that I sense in the epic stone mass.

The artist accesses his high vantage points via mountain bike. On two wheels, he can get to remote and pristine landscapes quickly, where others cannot easily go. He uses a creative method for fixing an image into his memory, for retrieval later in the studio. “For years, I would look out onto a place to capture it in my memory, then I’d say ‘click’ to myself, like I was talking a picture.”

Shoemaker’s subject matter found him early in life, during his family’s frequent trips to the West from their home on the plains of Nebraska. From a young age, Schumaker was moved by the “spaces in the mountains and their intensity.” In the early ’90s, while studying at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, he found painting to be his calling. He recalled, “Oddly enough, I met Stanton Englehart at CSU about 15 years ago at an exhibit of his paintings there. I had the opportunity to talk with him, and he set me off on my present course.” Viewing Englehart’s landscape-based paintings and speaking with him affected Schumaker profoundly. Perhaps he felt a kindred spirit in Englehart, someone who loves to be out in the land and who feels it with his whole being. “It wasn’t until a few years ago that I put two and two together … that I live in the same town as the artist who, over 15 years ago, really inspired me to dedicate myself to painting the land.” •

Shoemaker’s paintings are on display through Jan. 31 at Steaming Bean Coffee Co., 915 Main Ave. in Durango. Mon. –Sat., 6:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sun., 7 a.m. - 7p.m.

 

 

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