The Hills are Alive: Freya Grand’s Landscapes

“Natural forms have a voice, have a pulse,” artist Freya Grand told NMWA visitors on International Women’s Day, as she talked about her works on view in Minding the Landscape.

The exhibition showcases enlivening paintings and drawings of mountains, seashores, and plains, subjects drawn from her extensive travels.

IMG_9376_revised_4Grand traces the “conversion experience” that started her landscape painting to a fateful hiking trip in the Andes in 2000. She realized that nature was “the most authentic thing I could explore.” From that point on, she describes, “I try to absorb [natural forms], possess them, make them my own.”

Immersed in her own emotions and associations, Freya’s works are painted memories of her experiences.

In Glen Etive, she conveys the melancholy quality of Scotland by depicting its craggy mountain peaks, just barely visible under a layer of thick, milky fog. Grand says the landscape helped her to “understand the wailing, mournful sound of bagpipes.”

Tungurahua, 2011; Oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in.; Image courtesy of the artist

Tungurahua, 2011; Oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in.; Image courtesy of the artist

The large-scale painting Tungurahua exemplifies her ability to capture the ominous beauty of a place. Depicting the “business end” of the Peruvian volcano, Grand visually links its “blunt power” and “lush, sensual beauty” through fluid brushstrokes and luminous colors.

Grand’s small block paintings—“the excerpted pieces of the movie of where I’d been”—feel to the viewer like “looking through a small aperture.”

These compressed works offer a complement to her large paintings on canvas. Exploring a variety of perspectives, they range from long-distance glimpses to abstracted close-ups and bird’s-eye-views, providing a whirlwind impression of Grand’s journeys.  In one series of surging seascapes, the “mood of the water and architecture of wave shapes” is evident.

Where “travels are the research,” Grand collects photos, notes, and sketches from her trips to later translate onto her canvas.

NMWA presents works that illustrate the breadth of Grand’s process, including rarely-exhibited drawings (she confesses, “I don’t usually show them…they are records for me”).

IMG_0167

Drifting over a scarred African desert in Burning Fields or peering through mist to the twinkling waterways of Obstruction Point, viewers are transported in Freya Grand’s animated landscapes.

—Emily Haight is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

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