Nature is Joyful, Plentiful in Norton’s Fascinating Joseph Stella Exhibition

In very a lot residing as much as its title, the Norton Museum of Artwork’s awe-inspiring exhibition “Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” (opening Saturday) seems to be with renewed pleasure and objective at its topic’s often-neglected muse: the pure world that surrounds us, or no less than his otherworldly model of it.

Stella, an Italian-born artist who rose to notoriety within the post-World Conflict I period, famously painted enduring photos of metropolis slums and industrial behemoths, from skyscrapers to the Brooklyn Bridge. He was labeled a Futurist, however the irony, as this splendidly revealing exhibition explores, is that almost all his private work typically took him to imagined pasts of utopian verdure, the place virgins in opulent costume shared inspiration with legendary water nymphs. With a few exceptions chosen for distinction, in “Visionary Nature” there may be nary a constructing or bridge or man-made development in sight. As an alternative, there may be vibrant Eden after vibrant Eden, locations the place natural world can loom bigger than life, unspoiled by humankind’s march to modernity.

The exhibition, organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Artwork in Pennsylvania and the Excessive Museum of Artwork in Atlanta however premiering right here on the Norton, is organized into 9 concise segments unfold over three or 4 galleries. It covers Stella’s experimental forays into nature-based artwork, his full-fledged absorption into its themes and motifs within the second half of his profession, and the way his background and numerous life occasions—from his Catholic upbringing in Southern Italy, to his lengthy tenure in New York throughout the coronary heart of the modernist artwork motion, to his late-career transfer to Barbados—knowledgeable his work.

Stella was by all accounts an articulate visible sponge, an artist nicely conscious of the thrilling work being completed in western Europe and the Americas. He let a few of it seep into his follow. There are items in “Visionary Nature” that experiment with pointillism and silverpoint drawing, elegant portraiture and reverse portray on glass. However he appeared to seek out his groove, because it have been, deploying good old school oil on canvas, a medium that allowed his most colourful, imaginative and, certainly, surrealist works to flourish.

PNX119337 Flowers, Italy, 1931 (oil on canvas) by Stella, Joseph (1877-1946); 189.9×189.9 cm; Phoenix Artwork Museum, Arizona, USA; © Phoenix Artwork Museum ; Reward of Mr and Mrs Jonathan Marshall; American, out of copyright.

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Although not typically lumped in with the surrealists with whom he befriended (he even painted his pal Marcel Duchamp), his most interesting works are distinctive largely due to their distortions of the on a regular basis. He painted plant and animal life with a paradoxical obsession for element however a deliberate disregard for sensible scale. Thus, in “The Ox,” we’re struck by the enormity of the title bovine’s head because it flies disembodied over distant pastures beneath. In “Neapolitan Track,” a large, up-scaled palmetto leaf explodes like a firecracker popping over the artist’s beloved Mount Vesuvius. A tower of palm fronds, within the aptly titled “Palms,” positively dwarfs the modest homes beneath them, and “The Heron” extends the long-necked fowl much more vertically than nature supplied.

And but each choice feels good, whether or not faintly echoing the saturated colours of Georgia O’Keeffe or the calculated illogic of Salvador Dali. Stella’s manipulations of the pure world’s precise sizes, tones and textures are on the service of a tactile magnificence. Simply savor one other appropriately titled piece, “Pleasure of Residing,” painted in his adopted dwelling in Barbados, and the best way the tendrils of a hovering flower mirror the shapes of the close by clouds, which mirror the curls of the West Indian lady within the portray’s middle.

Dance of Spring (Track of the Birds) by Joseph Stella

There’s a cautious sense of geometry even within the wild worlds of Stella’s creativeness, so clearly evidenced in work like “Dance of Spring (Track of the Birds),” wherein a yellow beam of heavenly mild slices diagonally via the portray, forming a “V” with the Greek pillar behind it. Even in his busiest work, nothing is ever misplaced.

It’s additionally intentional, I feel, for works like these to exude a spiritual sense of awe. Within the press tour she led this week, Norton Senior Curator of American Artwork Ellen E. Roberts advised that whereas Stella was raised Catholic, he was extra probably a pantheist by the point he painted his singular nature scenes. How else to clarify “Swan (with Rainbow),” which locations the sinuous waterfowl in a sacred, round body extra befitting of a nineteenth century saint?

Purissima by Joseph Stella

Even in his extra easy faith-based portray “Purissima,” two herons flank a life-size virgin determine, and the birds, tellingly, are the identical peak because the human. This symmetrical motif is mirrored in “Purple Flower” (proven on the prime of this weblog), although this time the 2 birds have craned their necks upward to the gargantuan amaryllis between them, ready that may solely be interpreted as reverence: precisely the phrase that described Stella’s appreciation for nature’s joyful bounty.

“Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature” runs Saturday via Jan. 15 at Norton Museum of Artwork, 1450 S. Dixie Freeway, West Palm Seaside. Museum admission is $15-$18, or $5 for college kids. For data, name 561/832-5196 or go to

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