In July, When Michigan Landscapes are Most Effulgent, Roan & Black of Saugatuck Focuses on Seven Painters of Scapes

Painting by Karlene McConnell

Painting by Karlene McConnell

July makes a great month to motor to Saugatuck as our car windows become paintings of effulgent fields, radiant waters and verdant woods. While making the run to the lake, stop at Roan & Black Contemporary Gallery to see the Scapes exhibition, which opened July 11th.

The hospitality, beyond impeccable on Saturday night, makes the gallery, sculpture garden and home furnishings store a relaxing place to shop for paintings, sculpture and decorative items. I sat untrammeled and wrote for an hour. Gallery owners and life partners Doug McIntosh and John Newland seem unrushed as one or both talk life on the lakeshore, review politics in Saugatuck – Douglas or dish-up Ox-Bow commentary. Sales pitches are understated and most indirect. The grounds have enough art mysteries to fill up the lawn of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago.

Roan & Black has a deep list of represented artists, and the show drew upon their painters. Angela Saxon had the greatest count of canvases, all of them exploring blue expanses of sky, many blue expanses of water. She has roots in Leelanau, and many of the paintings could be taken from her alfresco painting sessions on the Leland side of that peninsula. She has taken her easel inland, too, and captured park lands and rural scenes of crops dazzling in summer sun. She attended Saturday’s event, making me think of Carly Simon when I saw her talking to visitors. I have to make a comparison to the Manistee coast paintings of Richard Kooyman and note that Saxon evokes Kooyman’s magnificence without matching it.

Ellen Delaney showed well with three canvases, one of which reminded me of houses lining the bluffs of Spring Lake I viewed on a cruise last week. Delaney came to painting from architecture, and she can evoke a home and its history with a thumbnail representation. She must somehow remove paint from her compositions, unpainting, which leaves the viewer to long for resolution, perhaps of an emotional memory from a forgotten lakeside vacation.

Karlene McConnell made the evening with her loving husband, and answered all the inquiries of well-wishers and potential collectors. McConnell knows the river lands of Florida, presenting its landscape in pleasing colors. However, these are not Hallmark images as I would not journey her waterways without an able guide. One can hear the song of insects and reptiles calling from the subconscious. Again, I have to compare McConnell to local touchstones: Ellen Trumbo, Tyler Loftis and Mike Coleman. The three painters who summer in Grand Haven express more in their canvases than I could find in McConnell’s masterful work. McConnell and her husband had hurried to Saugatuck and had yet to behold Lake Michigan as of Saturday night. It was pleasant to share their anticipation, knowing that the two were to be besotted with our inland sea Sunday.

Angie Renfro’s landscapes are motion frozen, the windshield image frosted in place by the painter’s consciousness. She performs the same magic on bees and weeds in the wind, motion seized by liquid nitrogen. She allows the built environment, notably power lines and transformers, to participate in her compositions without being more than a whispered element. She can communicate the energetic vibrations of grain silos when beheld in the early evening after a hot day. I was reminded of pewter tea pots of grain silos presented at the art museum in Fort Wayne. I was also reminded of how entire families perish in silos trying to rescue one man who succumbed to the methane found in those metal cylinders.

For now, we overlook the contributions of Heinrich Toh, John Folsom and James Bohling, which were considerable. I have to ask myself why the work contributed by the four women spoke to me more deeply than the work of the three men. Another visit to the gallery might be necessary.

The show continues at Roan & Black until mid-August. The gallery is located on the Blue Star Highway, the roadway that passes between Saugatuck and Douglas.

3315 Blue Star Hwy, Saugatuck, MI 49453

Gallery Hours:
Sunday and Monday 12-5PM. 
Tuesday through Thursday 11:00AM-6PM 
Friday and Saturday 11:00AM – 7 PM

-Will Juntunen

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