“There are no footholds, no people.”
Barry Gealt’s massive landscape paintings are now hanging in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the first floor of the Indiana University Art Museum and as curator Linda Baden put it, “you don’t have to know anything to feel it.” Each piece, though derived from an actual physical space, requires no prior knowledge of the scenes that Gealt depicts of Mother Nature. What’s more important in Gealt’s work is what the viewer feels when they stop to look and what they take away with them.
As I was walking through the gallery I stopped and felt sucked into one particular piece. Gealt’s “The Cave” has you peering over into a dark abyss, which draws you inward as if you are just about to fall in. The exterior of the cave with its thick layers of paint continuing past the border of the canvas, colorfully and vibrantly contrasts the immense darkness of the abyss below. Many of Gealt’s works play with this paradoxical viewpoint of nature, showing that beauty and beast can reside in the same space. The vigorous and heavy layers of brushstrokes and paint violently cover the canvas but are balanced by the fine and intuitive oil crayon marks.
To put it in Gealt’s own words: “When you look at one of my paintings, you see a perfect world. But inside that world you may also see upheaval, solitude, a sense of daring and the unknown. There are no footholds, no people. It’s just nature and my thoughts pushed out into nature. Making a perfect world doesn’t mean it’s all happy.”