Fury: Portraits of Turbulent Skies

Reviewed by: Grace Johnstone
Categories: Artists
Stephen Hutchings art review A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Storm Fugue \ Stephen Hutchings

This suite of eight-foot by eight-foot paintings by Ottawa-based painter Stephen Hutchings is a character study of storms, each as distinct as a snowflake. “The Tower” is fierce and concentrated, capturing a tornado column as it violently strikes an idyllic green field. “Gathering Storm” is ominous and foreboding, with its swirl of black cloud touching down on a golden strip of farmland. Conversely, the pink and blue sheets drenching a slope in “Rain Curtain” is romantic and sodden. 

The most striking in the series is “Storm Fugue,” which shows a terrible whirlpool of black and blue clouds gathering over a sunny plain. For those who remember the photographs and radar images of Hurricane Sandy gathering over the US east coast last October, this image in particular will have an eerie similarity. 

In each of these eight paintings, the sky is the subject, not the terrain. Hutchings completed Fury specifically for the Museum of Nature to complement a concurrent exhibition, entitled Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters – an interactive exploration of the science, history and impact of natural disasters, from ancient Pompeii to modern-day New Orleans.

“I have always been fascinated by how nature seems to reflect our personal feelings and moods,” says Hutchings, who used images from newsreel and online reportage as source material. “The paintings extend these images into metaphors that express the fears and terrors of contemporary life.” Indeed, as more and more superstorms become part of the climate (and news) cycle, our fear of wild, unpredictable weather – and our culpability in creating conditions for these storms to develop – is something we must collectively face. 

Hutchings cites 19th century English painter John Constable as an influence, and the resemblance is easy to see. Constable’s work featured beautiful landscapes being menaced by the raw power of nature. Another contemporary precedent might be found in German painter Anselm Keifer, whose psychologically fraught landscapes of fields and forests seem to have internalized the destruction that both humans and nature can wreak on their shared environment.

Another body of Hutchings’ startling large-scale paintings is showing in early 2013 as well. A second touring show of Landscapes for the End of Time, a collection of anticipatory vistas, will be on display at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon until March 10. This series, along with Fury: Portraits of Turbulent Skies, provides an excellent introduction to one of Canada’s most compelling environmental painters. 

Be blown away by more images from both collections at stephenhutchings.com.

This review originally appeared in Lifecycles, Issue 39.1. Subscribe now to get more reviews in your mailbox!

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