John Preston lives in Fairfield, Iowa, but grew up on the east coast. He has been painting the Midwestern landscape since 1984.
Preston's paintings primarily depict the dramatic climate of the Midwest, as well as its expansive skies and rolling fields. They often represent particular locations against a backdrop of weather events from observation, memory and where necessary, imagination. Simple, visual attraction is the central motivation, and he enjoys finding an idea in an image, rather than finding an image for an idea.
Preston has exhibited nationally and is in many public and private collections, including Iowa State University, John Deere and the Chicago Federal Reserve.
My current work is Realism more in the sense used by Courbet or Millet, when all painting was 'realistic' in appearance.
I'm generally known for what I call the 'Amber Waves of Grain Thing': expansive fields and dramatic skies. Coming from a suburban background, I'm still very much taken with that. However these are what one drives past while out looking for those drop dead views. Hopefully these 'grittier' images complete my treatment of Midwestern agriculture and keep my previous work from being 'spin'.
The move to watercolor reflects a desire to transition from 'finished' paintings to more of a 'complete sketch'. We live in times where life changes drastically in moments, something experienced personally as well as our many shared experiences. In such times, moments become precious and a more immediate approach seems appropriate. In the end, it's all still shapes, colors and the play of light - the painter's only vocabulary.
Over the years, Ellen Wagener has developed a penchant for certain areas and places, revisiting these sites to observe the changing crops, weather, time of day or season. She absorbs the characteristics of a location and recreates it anew on paper.
Wagener's landscapes demonstrate her awareness of the great tradition of landscape painting, from which she invents her own conceptual and stylistic approach. The Hudson River School, American Luminism, the French Barbizon School, Impressionism, and 20th-century Iowa artists such as Grant Wood and Marvin Cone are the landscape painters that inspire her. At the same time, the influence of the work of such Abstract Expressionists artists as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline can be felt in her use of frenzied, gestural lines. Her tour-de-force, F5Tornado, 2003, in the Figge Art Museum permanent collection, demonstrates her ability to work within her own alphabet of realistic landscape imagery to create symbolic, abstract works. Stormy clouds, burning fields, dust storms, and tornadoes move across her formerly pristine, carefully groomed landscapes, demonstrating the powerful force of nature.
Contrast is key in Wagener's work. There are strong gestural elements and ethereal clouds that soften the focus. While her renderings of fields and trees have a tactile quality, the skies are always elusive. The warm tones of the land against the cool colors of the sky are depicted in endless variations, whether spring, summer, fall, or winter. Her ability to capture the color, light, shapes, and textures of nature allows us to feel the cultivated land, to marvel at the endless diversity of the sky, and to have a mysterious encounter with nature.
Ellen Wagener graduated from the Corcoran School of Art, (George Washington University) in 1989. Her work is included in the following collections; University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa State University, Tucson Museum of Art, Figge Art Museum, Dubuque Museum of Art, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, US Art in Embassies, 9th District Federal Court House, Cedar Rapids. Ellen lives and works in Arizona and Iowa. Her hands are rarely clean.
-Written by Jane Milosch, Director, Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative, Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
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