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left to right: 1.) Between Water and Sky, 2019, 2.) Heart Glow, 2019, 3.) First Break 2019

The Mirror: 21st Century Landscapes by Joel Pieper

Opening reception: Saturday, July 13 from 2:00-5:00

On view Friday-Sunday, 10:00-5:00 from July 14 through August 24, 2019

It might be said that we live in the most sublimely epic decade of human history. Not in the sense of 18th century paintings of awe-inspiring wilderness, kind of sublime—but in epic disturbance to Earth’s eco-systems and a reactive, shroud of fear and resignation that humans have wrapped around the globe, kind of sublime. Stranger still, the required healing responses seem blocked by disinformation and technologies which polarize and dislocate our species. Today, billions of humans look for the world on a mobile device—spending more time in conflicted, virtual space than in natural space. This is a truly epic. How in the world can we heal this planet with so many gone missing?

 If you parse the odds for turning this around, keep in mind that our beautiful planet—this perfect interconnected biosphere—is immune to denial. Impossible to con. And she doesn’t care that we are stalled out. Rising fossil fuel emissions continue to warm the biosphere and the ice on Earth is melting. This only makes sense. This is not about a need for more evidence. This is a spiritual quandary. How could we have forgotten to care for our one and only home? Climate change is not a hoax or a monster. Climate change is a mirror. The only way to change its reflection is to change ourselves.

The good news is that there are many guides for this restorative work—from the likes of Pope Francis (who considers climate change within the sacred context of God’s creation) to teen-agers such as Greta Thunberg (whose solo strike on the steps of the Swedish parliament has inspired millions of children to strike, each Friday, to save the planet). Countless good people are striving for solutions. And, all around the globe, artists endeavor to raise awareness and change the behavior of our species.

One such artist is Joel Pieper, a Minneapolis-based painter who infuses a realist landscape tradition with 21st century eco-consciousness. Pieper has studied, engaged and painted the living landscape since his youth. Today, his work testifies to a beautiful, interconnected and warming biosphere. Pieper says that it is in his DNA to care for the planet. He’s been concerned about her for decades and he is clear-eyed about our changing world. Pieper travels extensively to search out and paint the wild and vast spaces of the American Mid-west and the West—spaces where he experiences a profound sense of belonging to the Earth.  This feeling secures Pieper’s planetary identity.

For Pieper, nature is the best teacher for an artist, or human, to have. He is glad for his art education (he earned his BFA in painting from the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, MN) but is clear that nature has been, and will continue to be, his true school. Even in the city, the artist’s connection to the natural world yields countless marvels. There, he finds agates in piles of rubble; discerns the song of the Indigo Bunting within the urban soundscape; spots rare visitors, like the arctic gyrfalcon flying over Lake Harriet, in south Minneapolis.    

Embodiment and mindful presence are key to Pieper’s sensory practice. He paints on location whenever possible, affording the guidance and challenge of shifting light and weather. In winter, this can be a stark but dazzling experience. Pieper recalls a recent week-long trip to paint vast ice fields along the south shore of Lake Superior. He walked for hours into the midst of shattered and piling ice, setting up his easel one half mile from shore. 

“There’s a mystery I’m drawn too, while standing in an inhospitable place, where I am only permitted a short stay. I’m fascinated by a landscape that’s moving and changing in strange ways and capturing light so dramatically.  I love that the ice talks.  And that I can feel it under my feet as it happens. I like to think that my experience in a place comes through the painting I’m working on, while in that place,” says the artist.

He also notes that ice is difficult to paint, as it reflects everything else around it. And the snow piles up, hiding everything underneath. “There is always such great mystery,” he says. 

For Pieper, Lake Superior’s shattered ice fields also allude to the dynamic qualities of breakdown, decay and climate change. He has long known that melting glaciers will impact beloved territories, throughout the mid-west, in significant ways. Over the last year Pieper has created many paintings of icebergs, based on photographs sourced from the internet.  He hopes, soon, to see and paint, first-hand, the great ice land of Antarctica or the vast tundra of the Arctic.

Pieper’s stunning exhibition “The Mirror: 21st Century Landscapes by Joel Pieper” presents a range of his new and recent works, installed in three distinct territories: regional winter scenes (painted in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming and South Dakota); pristine renditions of melting icebergs from Antarctica and Greenland; and regional summerscapes depicting the green of canyons, bogs and valleys. This installation correlates different eco-systems while supporting the viewer’s territorial orientation.  Awash with crystalline blue, the exhibition is presented in the heat of the summer to activate an embodied, sensory experience. Pieper grounds his cooling, calming palette with the enduring presence of the horizon—that boundary which anchors us between Earth and sky. The horizon invites location AND implies the future beyond—that which has yet to manifest.

As a painter for the 21st century, Pieper creates and presents work that is both locational and relational. He shares his paintings in the spirit of love and concern that he feels for the planet; inviting us to slow down and see our changing world, brushstroke by brushstroke. He is passionate about the importance of connectivity—within his compositions, within eco-systems and between himself and the natural world. Pieper’s artistic vision flows through this engagement, infusing his paintings with the energy of caring relationship. For Pieper, these are precious places. And this is palpable in the work.

Pieper’s panoramic Heart Glow (2019) is a beautiful example. Here, the artist captures an extraordinary ice shelf found (temporarily) in Herbster, Wisconsin “The whole thing had this glowing presence that captured my heart,” he says. A dark and, seemingly, moody work, the painting glows, too, with the presence of Piper’s soulful witness.

Several works in the exhibition acknowledge Pieper’s compassion and respect for other sentient beings—namely, snow buntings, swans and the fore-mentioned gyrfalcon—all of whom must cope with the consequences of human misapprehension. In Muddy Trumpeters (2019), swans dabble along a viscous and primal shoreline, reminding the viewer that millions of creatures find their life’s blood in streams, lakes and rivers.  

In Melting Castles (Humboldt Glacier, Greenland, 2019) Pieper conflates a melting iceberg with storybook architecture. Executed through an economy of brush strokes and pastel colors, one might find on a child’s birthday cake, this painting implies sweetness and illusion. To be sure, illusions abound in the human psyche but, in truth, the ice is not a castle, and this is not a fairytale. 

One of Pieper’s greatest concerns is that that so many humans cannot “see” a future on Earth. Instead, our popular culture is awash with dystopian visions. But it is liberating to note that both quantum science and myriad spiritual traditions describe the universal consciousness (God, if you will) as fully cognizant of and responsive to our individual and collective intentions. Turns out, we truly co-create our lives by activating the quantum field with our thoughts and words and actions. Today, many teachers of transformative practice with tell you that the universe is most responsive to intentions set for the highest good.

And with that, Swan Vision invites you, the reader, to activate the quantum field by envisioning a beautiful future for the highest good of planet Earth. Picture it daily. Share it with everyone that you love. And then align every aspect of your daily practice with your vision, to support its manifestation.  Absolutely everything that you do will help to heal the world.

---Cynde Randall, Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, July 2019

 About the artist

Joel Pieper is a Minneapolis-based artist, recognized for his soulful realist work and his alignment of plein air practice with an eco-conscious mind/heart. Pieper earned his BFA in painting from the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, MN (1985). He has exhibited in galleries and group shows throughout the region and honored with a recent one-person show at The American Swedish Institute, in Minneapolis. Pieper travels extensively to search out and paint the wild spaces of the Mid-west and the West.  He is also an exhibition designer, professional art handler and sole proprietor of Joel Pieper Fine Arts.

About Swan Vision Gallery

Swan Vision presents focused exhibitions of contemporary art curated by Cynde Randall to illuminate the living artists’ take on transformational practice, interbeing and alignment with life on planet Earth. The name ‘swan vision’ is an invitation to see through the eyes of an artist or another species. Swan Vision exhibitions will be scheduled from May to through most of December, with four exhibitions presented in collaboration with Santosha Center.  Please note: Swan Vision is dark between exhibits. For more follow Swan Vision on Facebook and Instagram or visit www.swanvision.net .

 About the curator

Cynde Randall is best known for her work in the curatorial department (MAEP) at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where she helped to produce and present myriad exhibitions of contemporary regional art in a museum context from 1984-2006; and as artistic director of the Minneapolis-based artist collective “Bird x Bird” (2001-10); and her previous gallery in Maiden Rock, called Swan Song Contemporary Arts (2007-12). Randall has written about art for diverse audiences since 1990—serving large institutions, alternative arts spaces and independent artists, alike. (Contact Cynde at cynderandall@centurytel.net  or 612-250-9222).