The works chosen for this landscape exhibit represent one artist’s efforts at the easel on a Tuesday, any given week of his sabbatical year. Kevin Muente’s successful descriptive representations are on the spot plein aire paintings which were not additionally edited in the studio. The paintings depict common landscape, not ostentatiously landmarked but painted closely, aligned to what the eye sees with little interpretation or manipulation of the visible facts. Kevin reports that he painted through three countries, Belgium, Italy and the U.S. Stateside locales included the tristate area Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, as well as Florida and Wisconsin. One would recognize titles of some local parks. However, generally the images vary from enclosed environs to open vistas often dominated with waterways and meandering streams to various degrees and trees.  Lots and lots of trees.

A partially limited palette includes 8 colors: Cadmiums: yellow light, orange and red medium, alizarin crimson, burnt umber, sometimes ochre, cobalt and thalo blue and two value adjusters: paynes grey and titanium white. Paintings are generally travel sized at 9×12 and 12×16, executed in varying time frames from 45 minutes to 4-5 hours.

Muente stated that ” from the start (he) recognized that not every effort is going to the the best, but that eventually good stuff emerges, some days not.” The project also produced a teaching tool: a self published book diagrams the project perimeters and mission along with artist’s statements and of course files of the work produced.

May 12th found Kevin painting on the banks of the Little Miami River, near Lunken Airport. The swept clean blue sky reflects clearly in the water as it wanders past sand bar and sandy banks as a light breeze rustles the spring green leaves.  Contrast the bucolic warmth of this painting with “Haystack, 7 below zero”, executed in mid winter on February 17th.  The snowy fields are layered deeply in vertical pictorial depth. The variety of trees and vines writhing at the edge of the yellow shaft, form a physically impassible screen that only partially obscures the rhythmic swell of distant blue hills beneath a delicate pink cloud. The lone hay roll, shrouded in snow, is the painter’s singular companion in this subzero experiment. The intense cold affecting both the paint and the painter makes any degree of accuracy a remarkable accomplishment in this writer’s opinion.

“What happened when you didn’t want to do it…?”  When confronted with this oft-asked student question, Kevin responded that his motivational problem was partially solved when he made a public description of the project he was  planning to pursue. Abhorring the shadow of hypocrisy, Kevin daily flexed the self competitive drive that the commitment called for. This artist found that he loved the performance aspect and soon his attitude became ‘in it to win it”.  Looking back on the series, Muente reports that the works for him are a personal memory path of the breakthroughs and frustrations that he experienced as an artist with brush in hand. He also embraces the series as a documentation of his life and life choices. It is expedient to turn off the judgement mechanism and foster a drive toward execution. As an artist at the head of a classroom, I have found that students are too often focused on product instead of process, hindering their freedom to live through and enjoy the painting act as an open-ended adventure in seeing.

Finally, these statements are important take-aways from our interview. Muente reflected on the statement of Kevin Lynch, landscape architect: “I am here” which could be shortened to “I am “. This self assignment becomes an exploration of the conditions of existence, substantiated by the resulting visual art; each work reveals the creator. Muente also states  “Time is precious”. This realization is clearly the statement of a maturing artist conscious of the timeline of life with work to accomplish.

“(I think that I am) Lucky to have been so attuned to myself and these places for one run around the sun.”  Kevin Muente

Northern Kentucky University: Art Department Gallery through Feb. 5, 2016

–Marlene Steele paints and teaches in Cincinnati Ohio

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