Land, Water, Sky | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Land, Water, Sky

Dan Gottsegen, recent oil paintings. Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery, Shelburne. Through June 9.


Published May 13, 2009 at 7:49 a.m.

“Red Rocks From Shelburne Point” by Dan Gottsegen
  • “Red Rocks From Shelburne Point” by Dan Gottsegen

Some contemporary landscapists cling to the Hudson River School tradition of romanticizing what they see. Others follow the well-worn path of realism, preserving moments in time to bring the outdoors inside. The most sophisticated landscape artists focus on color and form, adopting impressionistic techniques to pursue an expressive personal aesthetic.

Dan Gottsegen seems to approach the landscape from several directions at once. His solo exhibition at Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery this month showcases segmented images, as well as abstractions and a few traditional takes on the genre.

While Gottsegen holds an MFA from California College of the Arts and Crafts in San Francisco, he’s also an amateur naturalist, according to his extensive online bio and artist statement. “My work has always been shaped by my explorations of the natural world,” he writes. “Much of my earlier painting came from my work for over a decade trapping, banding, measuring and releasing hawks in California to study their migration patterns.” That experience analyzing as well as enjoying the natural environment shows in his work, especially the paintings in the “Die Wanderungen” (“The Migrations”) series, begun in 2005.

In those canvasses, Gottsegen regards landscape the way a lapidary examines a jewel. Scenes are divided into vibrant facets, each reflecting a segment of the spirit of the place. The 38-by-38-inch “Walking Life #II” is perhaps the most elaborate of these kaleidoscopic works. No fewer than 15 three- and four-sided polygonal sections of a wooded scene unfold across the picture plane. Bright scarlet leaves, purple skies and shimmering passages of water all find their place in the composition. Gottsegen seems to have revisited the locale under different conditions — not just of light but of the spectator’s emotion — to create the opulent forest pastiche.

“Red Rocks From Shelburne Point” is a horizontal 17-by-40-inch oil that partitions the vista to create something like a photomontage restated in paint. Ripples in the lake appear as squares and rectangles oriented in different directions and with varied focal points. The scene is framed by two rocky corners at lower left and right, and its high horizon line of undulating mountains contrasts with the jumbled swells of the water. The colors here are simpler than those in “Walking Life #II.” Like a cubist working with earth tones, Gottsegen employs naturalistic blues to focus on the lake’s broken geometry, without letting them vie with nonlinear elements such as dramatic swaths of color.

“Seasons Suite” is the largest piece in the show. The epic canvas of 60 by 65 inches incorporates overlapped and juxtaposed segments. A sky at the cusp of dawn appears at upper left, with a line of dark trees silhouetted under cirrus clouds. Below hangs a segment of what may be a Champlain Valley firmament with bright-orange clouds. In the upper left corner of the painting, we see the close-up of a pond reflecting reeds. Beneath that, a triangle of clouded sky appears; finally, water with floating lilies adorns the bottom of the composition. If it sounds complex, it is. But Gottsegen seems to use the complexity to suggest the interrelated nature of all the elements — and, by extension, of the human world.

Gottsegen wrote of his own relationship to nature: “As a painter, much of my time is spent in lone conversation with this thing in front of me, this quiet thing of great potential power and quiet, unneedy desire.” He records those intimate conversations in paint. We are fortunate to be privy to them with our eyes.

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