From Above, a small collection of paintings on view until November 26 at WSG Gallery in Ann Arbor, shows Karin Wagner Coron continuing her ongoing exploration of the Midwestern landscape. Working with photos taken from an airplane, this accomplished contemporary artist has created a select group of views of Midwestern fields and vistas punctuated and bounded by the fresh water lakes and rivers of the region.
These birds-eye views emphasize the agricultural geometry of Michigan and Ontario fields, delivering the illusion of flying over the limitless sweep of land that is the Midwest.
Many of the landscapes feature a kind of vertiginous diagonal composition, as if she is looking from the window of a steeply banking airplane (which in fact she is). She describes her process:
“I use photography as a basis for my compositions, to capture a particular time of day, interesting light or composition. I perceive and interpret nature while constantly finding a new palette or color scheme to match mood and feeling.”
Landscape paintings from an aerial point-of-view are nothing new, of course. Chinese painters from the Tang Dynasty onward painted nature as if from a neighboring mountaintop, each landscape a transcendent retreat from the banal and everyday. And painters of the Hudson River School such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church painted landscapes from overlooks that emphasized the limitless grandeur of the newly discovered American West.
In contrast to the escapist romanticism of Chinese landscape painters and the romantic imperialism of American painters of the West, Coron’s aerial landscapes revel in the orderly section and bisection of the land, with farmers’ fields cut by dirt roads and softened at the edges by hedgerows. This overhead perspective is especially appropriate for topography that is essentially flat. Pattern and color measure the paintings’ depth with the slightly diagonal compositions of many of the artworks leading us into the painted distance.
Coron’s vision of nature only lightly ordered by humans contrasts with that of other noted contemporary landscape artists such as Yvonne Jacquette and Rackstraw Downes, who emphasize the built environment over natural features and imply human habitation and activity. Coron, being a Great Lakes artist, also gives equal weight to the meandering of rivers and the inchoate shadows of clouds passing overhead even as she accepts the tamed land below her.
In the end, although these paintings clearly reference the Midwestern landscape they can also be appreciated for their more formal qualities. The color palette she has chosen for this series, with its acid yellows, juicy greens, muted pinks and aquatic blues, is more expressive than descriptive. Coron invites us not only to enjoy these paintings as descriptions of regional topography and atmosphere, but also to appreciate their sophisticated abstract sensibility.
Karin Wagner Coron has been exhibiting her paintings and prints professionally since 1992. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a BFA in painting, she is owner and manager of Format Framing and Gallery in Ann Arbor, and is a member of WSG Gallery, also in Ann Arbor.
For more information about WSG Gallery and this exhibit, go here.