It’s always a pleasure to become newly familiar with an Arizona artist, so I am glad I came across an exhibition of Ellen Wagener works this week at Gebert Contemporary in Scottsdale.
Technically, Wagener creates landscapes, using pastel on paper in amazingly detailed work and delivering reverent views of Arizona agricultural fields, deserts, rivers and even dust storms. But I would like to think her work is equally in the genre of cloudscapes given that clouds in so many variants seem to dominate her pieces. That’s not to downplay the beauty with which Wagener renders the land underneath the clouds; it’s just that as a viewer you are almost forced to choose between favoring the land or the sky as the center of interest. Sometimes the two seem to harmonize; other times, they clash. In any event, the works elicit a greater appreciation of the forces of nature that emanate from the sky.
One highlight of the exhibition is in getting to know Wagener’s versatility through her close-up depictions of gnarled and powerful trees. This includes a triptych and a single pastel interpreting the D.H. Lawrence tree, beloved by the author at his New Mexico ranch. I would assume this is partly Wagener’s tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe’s “The Lawrence Tree.”
Another highlight is Wagener’s 15 small pieces representing each of Arizona’s counties, a series she put together for our state’s Centennial. Also capturing the Arizona landscape is “Sycamore, Oak and Sedona Canyons, Arizona,” interestingly elongated with dimensions of 9-inches-by-91-inches. See it and it will validate for you why Arizona has the most beautiful sunsets.
An artist’s statement by Wagener that appears on an Iowa Women Artists site explains that she grew up in Iowa and that much of her work has been inspired by the beauty of the Midwest prairie — the geometric patterns of cultivated fields, big skies and changing seasons. Certainly, she has transferred that eye for the charms of expansive landscapes to her current life in Arizona.
The Wagener show is at Gebert, 7160 Main Street in Scottsdale, just for another week, after which only a handful of the works will be on view.