Art Beat: No place like home

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December 31, 2012
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Familiar scenes of urban and rural Minnesota at Groveland Gallery

Is it possible some ex-Minnesotan living far from flyover country was home for the holidays last month and managed a visit to Groveland Gallery?

It’s nice to think so, because the gallery is now filled with familiar scenes: of stucco bungalows in South Minneapolis, of southern Minnesota’s endless horizons, of red brick churches up on the Iron Range. “Scene in Minnesota,” a group show in the main gallery, sets the theme, and then it’s picked up by Cambridge painter Fred Anderson, whose work is on display in the annex.

Those South Minneapolis street scenes come courtesy Rod Massey, who often has a slightly quirky take on the quotidian. Massey paints a row of one-and-a-half-story bungalows on a gray winter day, and they seem to swell just a bit, as if the world was holding its breath, waiting to exhale.

He doesn’t prettify — there’s the garbage bin parked out front, and maybe the stucco’s just a bit dingy — but the these humble homes look dignified and, most of all, real. You recognize them.

In Mark Horton’s paintings of Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s downtowns, crystalline light rakes across the boxy skyscrapers. Horton’s view of the Minneapolis skyline, painted from a few stories up at a location just south of Nicollet & 12th, emphasizes the vast spaces between the city’s tallest buildings.

There’s no mistaking the suburban landmarks in Dan Bruggeman’s paintings: there are the roller coasters of Valley Fair in one and what must be the Vali-Hi Drive-In in another, judging from the St. Paul skyline off to the southwest. But Bruggeman pushes them down to the bottom of the frame, in deep shadow, and turns his attention to the drama of the summer sky at dusk, framing the last gold and red colors of sunset between banks of purple clouds.

Drive through southern Minnesota farm country in the summer and you can’t help but notice the oases of green among the farm fields, the clusters of trees that grow up around streams and drainage ditches. They are for the painter Larry Hoffman what haystacks were for Monet, a subject that allows for impressionistic explorations of light and atmosphere.

A Mankato native, Hoffman knows the obscure landmarks of the area’s prairie byways, like the tree that grows on the border of two farm fields just west of Waseca, alone atop a low-rising hill. Its forking trunk is unmistakable, and if you’ve ever driven that stretch of Highway 14 you’ll recognize it.

Northfield, Tom Maakestad’s hometown, is about 45 miles northwest of Mankato as the crow flies, and a bit further by highway, but Maakestad prowls the same farm-country back roads as Hoffman. Maakestad’s pastels, here, capture the patchwork of color that covers the landscape in summer.

In “Goodhue County,” a gravel road fringed with tawny prairie grass cuts through a field where the parallel rows of emerging soybeans are vivid, jungle green. The tones are dialed-back just a bit; there’s a haze in the air and cobalt-blue thunderheads on the horizon.

Meg Ojala is the lone photographer in this group, making images of riverine vegetation that emphasize the snaking, sinewy forms of the tangled branches. The shallow focus of the photographs and the sense of immersion they create recall the work of another Minnesota photographer, JoAnn Verburg, who shot a series of landscapes from the middle of an Italian olive grove. Ojala’s scenes are considerably wilder looking, but color — like the smooth, red bark of a budding dogwood shrub — draws the eye through her compositions.

Fred Anderson’s solo show in the annex includes both scenes urban — the shaded gravel pathways of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Loring Park’s bronze statue of Norwegian violinist Ole Bull — and rural. A standout is Anderson’s “First Presbyterian Church of Hibbing,” a view of the small-town parish obstructed by trees and a gas station canopy, which gets something right about the grittiness of the Iron Range and the hardy people who live there.

“Scene in Minnesota” and “Fred Anderson: New Work” both run through Jan. 19 at Groveland Gallery, 25 Groveland Terrace. 377-7800. grovelandgallery.com