Tom Uttech’s works are a kind of mystical realism. The woods, animals, birds, rocks and clouds in his oil paintings (recently closed at Swarthmore College’s List Gallery) look like the real thing, however, nature in Uttech’s works has been transported to some extraordinary realm, where birds don’t act bird-like and clouds and bears are not really like themselves either.
Take the bear/man hybrid (a stand-in for the artist and viewer) that appears in many of Uttech’s works, for example. It looks out on the landscape, its back to you, a mysterious presence in a wondrous land. Sometimes the bear’s shape is echoed in the cloudscape above, as if in salute.
Often times in these paintings, birds of all species flock together, flying through the trees, most going the same direction, a parade of bird species like Audubon could have painted if he was a mystic inclined to painting scenes and not documentary illustrations.
Uttech, who lives in Wisconsin and for many years taught art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, spends time with nature — he’s an avid hiker. He is painting what he knows, but also what he imagines, hopes or fears. These are not documentary works, although they do chronicle places the artist has visited like sacred Native American grounds where ancient petroglyphs populate the rocks.
The Romantic movement and Caspar David Friedrich come to mind when looking at Uttech’s works. Just as Friedrich shows hikers and nature wanderers in his sublime and mournful landscapes, Uttech’s poses his lonely bear, looking wholly enraptured by the sublime around him. The world in this exhibit, titled Adisokewinini (the Ojibwe word for “tale-teller”), is one of wonderment, but also questioning. That bear/man is on a journey of exploration that has no pat answers.
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