Contemporary Landscape Painting

Inka Essenhigh. Photo: Arrested Motion
Inka Essenhigh. Photo: Arrested Motion

The beginnings of landscape painting

The art of landscape painting refers to the painting of outdoor scenes. The choice of scenery by artists has changed over time, it was more common in the past to paint scenery such as fields, rivers, valleys, mountains, coasts, and beaches. Landscape painting established itself as a genre during the 15th century but it was in the 17th century that the Dutch royalist painters seriously developed this style.

During the 18th century, several artists excelled in landscape painting within Europe. This was the case of the Italian Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768) who dedicated himself to portraying the urban landscapes of Venice within the new genre of Veduta. This is a very typical 18th-century Italian painting genre within the framework of landscape painting and developed mainly in Venice.

During the 19th century in England, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851) elevated landscape art to the level of history painting, developing a topographic type of painting with an almost photographic style. In France Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) developed landscape painting within Impressionism. But although his first works belong to pictorial realism, with time he moved away more and more from this style.

Joseph Mallord William Turner – Dutch Boats in a Gale, 1801, oil on canvas

The evolution of landscape painting

Today the genre is more vital than ever as issues such as global warming and environmental problems impact strongly on this art that in the past used to present almost only idyllic and reassuring landscapes. There is a new wave of landscape painters who have revitalized the genre, transforming it into fertile ground for innovation and experimentation with new techniques. Although it is a genre with a long history and tradition, it cannot be denied that it has managed to adapt to new times.

In the contemporary scene of landscape painting, the new artists have followed new paths different from those of their predecessors of previous centuries, but it can also be noticed that they are not without influence from the old masters of this art. This is the case of contemporary artists within landscape painting such as Inka Essenhigh (1969, Pennsylvania, United States), Hernan Bas (1978, Florida, United States), or Amy Bennett (1977, Portland, United States).

Hernan Bas – Don’t Tell it on the Mountain, 2013 © Hernan Bas. Photo: Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin

The new actors in contemporary landscape painting

Inka Essenhigh

Inka Essenhigh has had a long career since she was included in the influential 1998 exhibition on pop surrealism at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Aldrich. She says that perhaps it is not always about taking what comes out of her imagination to paint, but rather about creating a world different from the real one with her art, a world in which she wants to live.

Inka paints landscapes extracted directly from her imagination and deliberately artificial. Her paintings explore nature and what is hidden beyond our perception, using narration, symbolism, and mystery. Her pictorial style is sustained by Romanesque, Art Nouveau, Rococo, and Pop Art.

Her work makes the intentional use of narrative content from mythology and urban scenes. Peter Malone describes Essenhigh as someone who “reveals a freedom that resonates with all kinds of fusion: of figure and design, of abstraction and narrative, of feeling and humor, and more generally, of ambitious painting with a readable narrative”.

Inka Essenhigh – Yellow Fall​, 2007 © Inka Essenhigh. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Hernan Bas

Being a Miami native and a fan of the fantastic, Hernan Bas has become a connoisseur of the urban myths that come from Florida’s wetlands such as big feet, werewolves and UFOs. This content is captured in his work where he generates a somewhat supernatural and sinister atmosphere in his landscapes, making use of techniques such as silkscreen printing and block printing.

Bas works within a narrative loaded with erotic content, with representations of “waifs” and “dandies”, which are based on his own experiences and at the same time seem to be taken from the works of writers like Oscar Wilde and J.K. Huysmans. Bas defines himself as openly gay and says that this bursts into his work in the form of characters who have grown up in his paintings and taken on different roles.

Hernan Bas – ​A Landscape to Swallow You Whole​, 2011 © Hernan Bas. Photo: Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin

Amy Bennett

Amy Bennett’s paintings feature three-dimensional dioramas built to a scale of 1/87 and where she uses various materials such as wood, paint, cardboard, foam, and model miniatures. Isolated villages, mountainous landscapes and architectural structures designed and finished with great precision are common in her settings.

Bennett’s works are almost always set in rural villages but with modern architecture. In Nothing New under the Sun of 2016, you can appreciate a colorful empty city with only houses, streets, cars, a church, but no person in the scene.

Storytelling has great importance in Bennett’s work. His artistic process involves first making three-dimensional models to scale, and then painting his pictures from these miniature models. In this way, the paintings and models offer the viewer different perspectives on the stories he is telling in his work. The settings are always suburban neighborhoods, churches, and domestic interiors.

Amy Bennett – Nothing New under the Sun​, 2016. Oil on canvas © Amy Bennett. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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