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Aliquippa artist Douglas Wynn seeks to convey what he sees and feels

| Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ever since the painters of America's Hudson River School of the mid-19th-century took to the woods, nature has been a pivotal force in driving American artists to pick up paint and brush to translate the beauty of nature to canvas.

For Aliquippa artist Douglas Wynn, there could be no greater task, and no better place to do it than McConnells Mill State Park, in Lawrence County.

To date, Wynn has created more than 40 paintings (and nearly a dozen sculptures) inspired by the park, especially the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Currently, his solo exhibit, "evoking Vagrom path(o)s" at Fein Art Gallery on the North Side showcases about half of those works, and they really are a sight to behold.

The exhibit actually has a progressive quality to it, beginning with more-realistic works that capture the rocky gorge in all its glory, then moving forward to more abstract representations of the same landscape.

For example, pieces like "The Boaz Boulder," hung closer to the gallery's entrance, represent a realistic approach to nature that Wynn concentrated on a few years ago when he started painting at McConnells Mill. It depicts the craggy, moss-covered boulder jutting out from a hillside.

"I was more or less painting what I saw as a recording of the park on my hiking trips," Wynn says. "They are a pictorial record as I made my way downstream on the many hiking trails. Usually close to the stream, but occasionally off on various other paths."

As one walks along the row of pieces hung side by side they begin to encounter paintings that look different in that they become more "gestural" in nature, relying heavily on bold strokes where Wynn let the paint fly a bit. "I used that technique in a lot of my underlayment, in killing the white of the canvas," the artist says. "As that would bleed through, I would leave it, as I thought it was a nice effect."

Wynn liked it so well it became a more dominant characteristic as he moved forward. "For some time, I have been seeking a more mature style," he says. "I wanted to express the 'essence' of the park and the rock (formations). It had a spiritual encounter from the way I viewed it. I wanted what the rock gave me, without it being figurative so much."

One of the last representational pieces showing the rock in its most realistic form is the painting "Counter Balance." "That painting, as well as some of the others, are seminal in the transition," he says. "In fact, the crux of the transition came just a couple months before the show opened."

That didn't give him a lot of time to work through all the complications that arose from the new development. But, he says, "For me, it was like learning how to paint again. It really came from an epiphany on starting a painting. I saw in the very beginning stages what I was after."

Re-energized, he says this new way of working is "like walking for the first time," he says. "I love every second of it. The whole look now in my pieces, is the rock's essence."

That is one reason why the pieces "Spiritual Inertia" and "Blueprint # 5" are hung side by side, he says, "It's not the same rock, but it captures the same subject matter. Just a different approach, and for me a better approach. It's what the rock is all about."

The exhibit also includes more than a half-dozen wood sculptures that convey the same subject as the paintings, such as "Our Passage Patience To Promise," which looks just like another rock formation, but is carved from a pine log.

The show culminates with a massive oil painting titled "Vertical Emancipation" that is 7 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet high. It's hung in the back of the gallery, with space all to its own and rightly so.

"As one may be able to tell, there is an underlying and strong current of a spiritual power, hence the title 'Vertical Emancipation,' " Wynn says of the vibrant painting of a rocky expanse. At that size, it's reminiscent of the grand landscapes of Frederic Church that spiritually inspired legions over a century and a half ago. "I do read a lot and my time up at McConnells Mill has been my spiritual endeavor.

"I believe I am called to do what I am doing up there," he says. "A lot of times I am reading scripture that just fits the piece I am doing at the time. Sometimes it fits something else I am reading too. Like many artists, I take what I am given at the time, for that is what I am supposed to use. I have no argument with that."

Additional Information:

'Douglas Wynn: evoking Vagrom path(o)s'

When: Through March 30. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon-5 p.m. Saturdays

Admission: Free

Where: Fein Art Gallery, 519 East Ohio St., North Side

Details: 412-321-6816 or website

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