Illuminating landscapes tinged with nostalgic imagery are lighting up the walls of Gallery XII. Hugh Greer’s latest exhibit is both a tribute to the clandestine beauty of Kansas and an homage to the significance of place. Artfully capturing nature on canvas, his paintings invoke the spirit of the open range and tacitly invite viewers to a reflective, humble space.
The series on display opened on November’s Final Friday and will be on display at the gallery until the last week of January. It’s largely Kansas landscapes, most of which were created in the past year.
Light is an important element in Greer’s paintings, its usage augmenting the scenes that he details. His works capture illumination in all its forms – bright and glowing as the sun lights an evening sky through an atmospheric filter that emits a red-orange hue, thick and heavy on an overcast day, muted on a foggy morning and glisteningly intensifying color after it rains. Colors layer on each canvas, with each hue underneath influencing the one on top. Acrylics are his primary medium. He said that they are perfect for capturing light because of their transparency.
“I’m intrigued by light, probably more so than by composition,” he said. “When I see light, I try to figure out how to capture it. Like when we had a series of foggy days, I tried to capture that, because there’s nothing prettier or more beautiful than a foggy day. It creates a certain mood in you. I aim to capture that view and mood with the light.”
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Nostalgia is another component that distinguishes his canvases. The 71-year-old artist said that’s part of his personality coming through in his work.
“It’s because I’m an old guy,” he said with a laugh. “I like thinking about earlier times. I find that certain subjects bring out an element of nostalgia. There’s certain things that trigger it, like an old-style farmhouse.”
Greer said that he has a small cabin about 100 miles east of Wichita, to where he retreats often for inspiration and to indulge his other passion, bass fishing. It’s a pursuit that is just as important to him as painting. The pastime brings him close to the subject matter he re-creates and informs his work.
“When you get outdoors to do that, you see a lot of things, and you see a lot of stuff that begs to be painted.”
One of the paintings on display in this show, “Secret Fishing Hole No. 3,” is of a favorite casting spot. It’s a placid scene, with the water littered in amber foliage while light dances along the bushes behind it, gleaming in the lake’s reflection.
“It’s so secret that the fish don’t even know where it is,” he joked. “It’s somewhere in Kansas, but if I told you where, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.”
“Family Cycle” demonstrates Greer’s propensity for the past. It spotlights a farmhouse set against rolling prairie, with a vintage tricycle parked off the driveway. The painting won a national award a few years ago.
“The thought is that the kids have come home to the farm and they’re all having dinner inside, and they have the tricycle there for the grandkid,” Greer said of the painting. “The title is a play on the tricycle and how the kids are coming back to where they were raised.”
Most of Greer’s works are likewise cleverly named, such as “Mennonite White,” which captures a pristine snow at a Mennonite family farm, and “October Red,” where red sumac becomes prominent in an expansive Flint Hills fall-time landscape.
Greer, whose professional background is in creating architectural renderings of buildings, said that he has painted close to 1,000 paintings. Titling them, he contends, is almost as much of a job as creating them.
All of his works exhibit a profound reverence for the land Greer calls home.
“I hope people walk away being more aware of Kansas. I find Kansas beautiful, just like I find the Rocky Mountains beautiful. There are parts of Kansas that I really enjoy, and I try to express that in my paintings. I think most people who’ve been here a long time feel that same way.”