Muddy, confusing and ominous, the war images in Amy-Claire Huestis’s latest exhibit Landscape with Bombers are an examination of the intrusion of battle on the pastoral. These are not the fields where generals clash or trenches are yet to be dug; this is where the forces of combat push back the barriers of common life to make room for warfare. It is a look at calamity in the making.
Watercolour is a medium often used to depict delicate images, such as flowers, water and winter, where rich but diffuse colours are required. The transparent effects can yield the light and airy results that are required, say, in the wings of a butterfly or on the petals of an orchid. Or it can make manifest the texture in snow without adding too much weight to the shading. In contrast, Huestis takes watercolours and creates thick and muddy landscapes that are heavy and full of turmoil. Landscape with Bombers uses browns and red clay-like hues interspersed with a bit of grey to capture a harried view of the situation portrayed.
The show’s namesake was created specifically for the Battat Contemporary space. It measures 90 x 425 inches and spans two walls. The large scale and partial enclosure created by the walls add an epic element to the painting. To the left is a forest filled with rocks and trees. In the middle a large bomber plane appears to be crashing. To the right, further away in the sky, more bombers are flying and spitting out their ammo while a figure on the ground has picked up a dog. It is a piece that “investigates the tension between bucolic landscape scenery and ominous signs of warfare and impending conflict.”
Huestis cites Francisco Goya as one of her influences and no doubt his Disasters of War series, which depicts the ugly and inglorious side of the struggle that he witnessed when Napoleon’s army invaded Spain in 1808, had an impact. However, unlike Goya whose figures have faces that are torn with emotion and horror, Huestis’s figures don’t have distinct expressions or facial features. They don’t emote or engage in any sweeping gestures. Rather, they carry the dead; they pick up the dog and they keep going. There’s almost a desperate apathy to these people as they trudge along.
There are also some smaller watercolour studies of various parts of Landscape and other images of war, a few pieces done with white chalk on black paper and a number of sketches on display. The ability of the artist to render images that are both sparse and frenetic as well as dense and discerning make her works very engaging. It can take a few moments before you realize what you’re looking at, and this effect adds to the feelings of disorder and panic.
Landscape has a nostalgic feel because of the WWI bombers represented in it, but it is also relevant to the conflicts of today. In addition to the bloody horrors that war results in, there is also the displacement of people and ways of life. The simple beauty of rural existence cannot contend with the onslaught of warfare and it is to this moment of conflict that Huestis takes us. A great panoramic to ponder.
Landscape with Bombers runs through October 24 at Battat Contemporary, 7245 Alexandra St., Suite 100. The gallery is open 12-6 Tuesday through Friday and from 12-5 on Saturdays. For more information check the Battat Contemporary site.