By An Uong
Harvard, MA — At this time of the year, from its nearby grassy fields to the more distant rolling hills, where the vast swaths of greenery never seem to end, the Fruitlands Museum boasts quite the view.
Its visitor center sits atop a hill, overlooking the various cottages that house its exhibits. As Fruitlands mainly features work and displays covering Shaker to Native American history, one would not expect to happen upon an abstract exhibition such as “Transcendental Abstractions,” in which Richard Kattman endeavors to capture the essence of the museum’s land and space in his abstract paintings.
As part of his season-long artist residency with the museum, Kattman paints plein air on their grounds, facing the overwhelming scene of woods and mountains. As the view stretches before him, he paints to express his experience with the land. Through this process, he transcends the physical boundaries of representation to communicate the energy that he shares with his surroundings. Though abstract, his paintings hint at his instincts as a landscape architect. The most nuanced of mountainous forms or oceanic depths find their way into his painting. These subtleties are a reflection of his subconscious and its strong gravitation towards the sublime landscape before him. In doing so, he gives visualization to instantaneous reactions that the human mind has when confronted with such awe-inspiring spectacles.
From afar, sprawling mountain ranges and infinite ocean horizons seem still, yet they inevitably catalyze subconscious thoughts and movements within observers. “Flight 313” is a piece that internalizes that process with markings that announce the artist’s consciousness and existence. “They say I’m here now,” Kattman expresses of the colorful strokes that cover his paintings. “Sometimes it becomes like a signature,” he continues.
The painting’s energy comes from Kattman’s own reservoir of emotion and thought. The darker mustard tones surround a golden center that emerges to draw the viewer into the piece. The marks around it almost travel towards it, leading the way for observers to follow. “Flight 313” does the heavy lifting, leaving the audience to swim along through the fields of color and experience that he has put onto canvas.
The show was curated by Fruitlands’ chief curator Mike Volmar. He put careful thought into the choice of paintings, as well as the placement of the work. “I wanted to make sure we had enough art, and enough space for that art to breathe,” Volmar said of the experience, adding, “We had to find a balance.”
Upon entry into the gallery, a Kattman piece greets the viewer, already setting up the mindset to experience his pieces. Within the spacious but intimate area, his paintings line the wall, each independent of the other, yet all joined together by the common feeling of awe. The works, each 6’ by 6’ in size, envelop the viewer with their sometimes relentless, other times mellowed energy.
“In The Land of R2D2” boasts similar mustards and yellows as those of “Flight 313,” but functions with a different aura entirely. In the former painting, markings are much less hectic, and are spaced out, allowing the rich yellows to dominate rather than peek through. In this piece, some of Kattman’s paint strokes almost take on the appearance of a language that he has made up to communicate his abstract perceptions of space and nature. This language is prevalent throughout all of his pieces, tying them together with its layered sense of depth.
Abstraction is always a question. There is no clear threshold as to where realism disappears, and where one’s inner landscape emerges. At a certain point, there is no trying for abstraction. Kattman’s art is a world of its own, suspending reality for a few stretched moments.
(“Richard Kattman: Transcendental Abstractions” continues through August 10 at the Fruitlands Museum, 102 Prospect Hill Road, Harvard, Mass. For more information, call (978) 456-3924.)
View slideshow of Kattman’s work: