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The Finger Lakes is Ripe with Landscape Painters

Landscape painting is an established and familiar genre just about everywhere. It is particularly strong here in Ithaca—with the city’s undeniably scenic and pastoral settings and perhaps with its local-first and environmental ethos. And while the genre can lend itself to cliché, at its best, it can be a taking off point for a range of investigation that seems unlikely to exhaust itself any time soon.

Here are six of my favorite landscape artists from Ithaca and a bit beyond. Two have current or upcoming solo shows. Others can be seen at the State of the Art Gallery—Ithaca’s major cooperative for fine artists—or on the upcoming Greater Ithaca Art Trail.

(Open by schedule year around, The Art Trail hosts its annual Open Studio weekends in the fall. The upcoming events are on Oct. 11, 12, 18, and 19 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The “trail” consists of 42 artists with studios in Ithaca and several neighboring communities. See www.arttrail.com, pick up a brochure, or call the Community Arts Partnership at 607-273-5072 for more information.)

Using his minivan as a mobile studio, Carlton Manzano (www.carltonmanzano.net) paints regional scenes with a rough energy that recalls the Ashcan School realists of a century ago—only he substitutes natural and rural environments for their New York City ones. His sense of touch and texture is delightful and his attention to the changing of the seasons and to the less-than-sightly aspects of rural and small town communities is distinctive.

A similar combination of quotidian scene-setting and painterly freeplay characterizes the work of Ithaca turned Brooklyn artist Neil Berger (www.neilberger.com). Due to his long association with the Ink Shop—Ithaca’s cooperative printmaking studio and print gallery—Berger is best known locally for his black and white monotypes. He is also a highly capable and inventive oil painter. His style in both ink and paint combines weighty evocation of concrete locations with a varied and virtuosic flurry of painterly marks. He is known for his landscapes, which explore a wide range of natural and urban settings. He is also an able portraitist and is known to incorporate human figures into his landscapes—something of a rarity in local art.

Berger is having a show in October at the Frame Shop downtown with a “First Friday” opening on Oct. 3.

*Done with painstakingly layered oil paint on both canvas and paper, Suzanne Onodera’s (sonodera.com/) rich work is poised between the palpable and the ethereal. Although often described as abstract, they owe more to the romantic and tonalist landscape artists of the 19th century than to just about anybody from the 20th. Her work distills the genre to its fundamentals: hazily lit atmosphere; suggestions of clouds, smoke, and fire; implied horizons; earth, foliage, and water.

Her solo show “The Wild and the Deep” is up this month (through Oct. 4) at the Corners Gallery in Cayuga Heights. There will be a reception on Sept. 12 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Of her show the Californian turned Ithacan artist says in a statement: “Recently I relocated to the Northeast where the lush and changing land continues to influence my practice in ways I am still unsure. And although I am inspired by land, place and nature, all of my imagery is invented. It is detached from any historical or specific link to time or place. Ultimately, this work is about transcendental beauty and connectivity between humans and nature, and to the self and the sublime.”*

Janet Byer Sherman (soag.org/our-members/janet-byer-sherman), who lives and works in Spencer, is a member at the State of the Art Gallery and shows her paintings and drawings regularly in the venerable cooperative’s back room gallery. Her recent landscapes have taken off in a decidedly abstract direction – a pared down world of bands and patches of moody, evocative color.

Diane Newton’s (soag.org/our-members/diane-newton/) work can also be seen at the SOAG. Although she has been working lately in a more expressionistic vein, Newton is best known for her tightly observed, realistic pastels. (The status of the medium in rather ambiguous—Newton’s works on paper can be considered drawings or paintings.) In her most distinctive work, the Boston and Ithaca based artist depicts scenes that eschew pastoralism: we see highways and parking lots, seedy and neglected corner of the city, parks and nature barren in wintertime. Newton’s use of perspective and composition is distinctive as well, with a complex use of the bird’s-eye-view and the panorama.

Craig Mains (craigmains.com/) is one of Ithaca art’s honest eccentrics, a genuinely idiosyncratic stylist working in color monotype—a one-of-a-kind printmaking medium—with a combination of cartoonishly profiled shapes and painterly aplomb. Uniquely among the artists here, his focus is on the manmade world of buildings, structures, machines, and vehicles. Nature appears as a kind of stage set for the violent dramas that he likes to play out: crashes, fires, explosions, floods—all depicted with great wit and intelligence. - Arthur Whitman