If you think you've seen every Stanton Englehart landscape that ever emerged from the late artist's studio, drive to
Dolores. On Sunday afternoon, a new exhibit of rarely seen Englehart paintings officially opens at the Anasazi Heritage
Center. By my count, there are 54 works on display, and only two or three have been exhibited before. In addition,there are other surprises.
Horizons: Paintings by Stanton Englehart" has been organized by Englehart's daughter, Sharon, from work in the
Englehart Family Trust. It's a beautiful, sprawling exhibition featuring mixed media and oil-on-linen landscapes. Fans
who are fascinated by Englehart's enigmatic Women Series, from his graduate student days, may be disappointed. But this
isn't a retrospective. This is the first exhibition organized as a tribute to the artist-teacher who founded the Fort
Lewis College art department, taught for more than 30 years, and who died April 22.
When Englehart painted the works on display is anybody's guess. Pat Englehart, Stanton's widow, said in a telephone
interview last week that they may have been done in the 1980s, a particularly prolific period for him," she said.
Dating was never a priority for Englehart. That's for art historians," he told me once during an interview for a
Herald profile. So it's anybody's guess about where these luminous works fit into his long career.
What you will see is a serious exploration of abstraction, and, more surprisingly - an almost playful experimentation.
In the mixed-media pieces especially, there's evidence of an artist trying this and that.
In Very Close to Home," Englehart planted then allowed a plume of purple to blossom in a hot pink sky. In Wing of a
Storm," he slathered white pigment over a pale blue rectangle then scraped it away, leaving a suggestion of a shell or
a bird's wing floating in the air - for no other reason than it might have pleased him. In Untitled IV," the artist
dragged a brush loaded with cadmium red from the sides to the center and then incised black lines creating a mysterious
arc motif - in the sky." None of these formulations appear elsewhere; they exist as one-of-a-kind epiphanies. They are
fresh and unstudied, so unlike the carefully conceived and sometimes overworked oil paintings.
Was Englehart just experimenting, taking a joyful detour down a free road toward unexpected colors? Gestures?
His large, finished works tend to be highly serious, frozen in time. I've long thought he was essentially a
neo-romantic painter, although he hated labels. There's a strong, darkly exultant core to his formal, sometimes stiff
landscapes. That can be seen in the exhibit, particularly in a magnificent wall expanse of six pairs of paintings.
Englehart's tribute to the Henry Mountains in south-central Utah could be a secular altarpiece. The ensemble interprets
one subject in six different color schemes. Below each of the big landscapes, six small mixed-media paintings present
what in the history of art and altarpieces are called predellas. In the Renaissance, conventional predella paintings
sat under the major painting and/or wings of an altarpiece. Traditionally, they contained narrative episodes, the
Nativity Cycle, for example. Englehart's homage to the Henry Mountains depicts no divine figure seated on a throne or
cross, and you won't find a storyline below. Instead, Englehart has given us six magnificent abstract landscapes above
and fluid images of churning water below. He's adapted a historical form and given us a fully contemporary landscape
altarpiece. Once again with a dramatic twist, Englehart worshiped the sublime beauty of the natural world.
In the 19th century, the Romantics viewed Nature as all powerful and humankind as minuscule, subject to the forces of a
wilder and wider universe. To me, Englehart's mature works expresses that philosophical viewpoint. His emphasis on
never-ending Western skies, spectacular canyon formations, desert vistas and oncoming storms links him to the great
European traditions of Romantic landscape painting.
That's one reason I see Englehart as a neo-romantic. His vision was never small and certainly not man-centered. He
rarely included evidence of our little world - people, animals, airplanes or a tiny farm in the distance. Even in On
the Way Home," the arc of the world dwarfs the human struggle.
This exhibit goes a long way to support that interpretation. Of course, it's counterbalanced by the artist at play in a
world of color, texture and stubborn errant line. Why do I feel like writing: Go figure?
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at "mailto:Jud_reyn@yahoo.com">Jud_reyn@yahoo.com.