American landscapes mythic, real in ‘Long Way Home’ 

Set against backdrops of vast gorgeous nature, timeworn farm buildings become arresting commemorations of human exploration of the American landscape in the paintings of Michael Gregory. In a new series, “Long Way Home,” Gregory continues to look at journeys and discoveries, with a focus on the American West and the road trip.

On view at John Berggruen Gallery through Aug. 16, the exhibition — the artist’s 11th solo show at the gallery — contains 14 oil-on-canvas works by Gregory, a Bolinas-based artist who, rather than working in plein-air mode, paints landscapes from his imagination. Road trips taken through Northern and Central California have given rise to the settings featured in the series. The Lewis and Clark expeditions, in the nation’s western territories, and the spirit of discovery they embodied in the early 19th century, Gregory cites as bigger-picture inspirations.

Painted in his trademark style of realism tinged with the mythic, the works, most of which are 5 to 6 feet in size, contain foregrounds of grassy fields, backgrounds of trees and mountains, and, in between, small patches of old farm architecture, such as barns and silos. Rendered with meticulously applied, dynamic brushstrokes, the farm buildings convey vital, transitory activity. They contrast with the permanent character of Gregory’s natural scenery, with its paint-soaked-into-canvas skies.

Sporting triangular roofs and earthy colors, the buildings echo the mountains and other surrounding sights. At the same time, with their man-made accents — reddish chimneys, blue window panes, hand-hammered fences — Gregory’s architectural groupings stand out as representations of a departed human presence on the land.

They also act as testaments to an explorer spirit that Gregory has described as a “genetic necessity” of humankind.

In “Roan Hill” — a rare horizontal piece among the mostly vertical works on the walls — a small stretch of buildings shares the spotlight with a rolling white fog (a Gregory signature ingredient), which suggests both a current working of nature and an otherworldly quality.

In “Little Martha,” a narrow strip of homes, barns and poles, sandwiched between a field and some enormous mountains, makes for an eye-catching picture of past community farm life.

In “Solitaire,” a triangular barn radiates dignity, while blue-violet mountains, sunburned fields, and that ubiquitous fog create the sense of the majestic that is often associated with American landscape painting.

Gregory’s paintings have also hung at the Delaware Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, and elsewhere around the country.

IF YOU GO

Michael Gregory: Long Way Home

Where: John Berggruen Gallery, 228 Grant Ave., S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes Aug. 16

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 781-4629, www.berggruen.com

About The Author

Anita Katz

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