Middle of Now
From the creek to the gallery
What: "In the Middle of Now" Reception
Where: Forum Arts, 721 S. First St., La Conner
WHEN: 5pm-7:30pm Sat., April 13 (the exhibit shows through May 5)
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
I’ve long been familiar with Todd Horton’s paintings of landscape and wildlife, frequently garnished with spiritual trappings—a fox surrounded by swallows, or a bear gazing at the moon. His work has captured the imagination of Skagit and Whatcom art fanciers and his reputation has spread to Seattle and beyond.
But foxes. Horton has a thing about them. “Todd” is a Middle English word for fox. He tells a moving story about hitting a fox at night on the road and looking into its eyes as it died.
Horton is a midwesterner who turned to painting while teaching English in Japan. There, he fell under the spell of Shintoism, the ancient, animistic belief system that reveres the spirit (kami) in all natural features—waterfalls, mountains, even rocks. Shintoists revere foxes as messengers between gods and humans.
Steeped in this reverence for nature and deciding to dedicate his life to art, Horton followed in the footsteps of many artists and came to the Skagit Valley. Because of its similarity to the Japanese landscape, he says it’s the best place in America for an artist, as the “land influences the art made on it.”
Horton spends lots of time outdoors, whether it’s on a river houseboat or in the mountains, where he sets up camp in summer and from where he will haul back a van-load of fresh canvases. He can also step directly from his Blanchard studio into the headwaters of Whitehall Creek, a valuable salmon stream.
In fact, the work in his La Conner Forum Arts show, “In the Middle of Now,” was painted plein aire in Whitehall Creek. A photo shows Horton carrying a large canvas, wading through a rushing stream in the actual creative process.
The gallery experience is structured as a set of seven large, interconnected paintings of forest and stream that wrap around the viewer. Horton’s intention is to honor the only authentic Shinto shrine in Washington state, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, nearby in Granite Falls. By this connection to the sacred, he encourages viewers to protect nature in their own backyards. Two paintings feature Shide, which are the zigzag, white paper streamers ever-present in Shinto ritual.
Horton’s uniquely impressionist technique is the result of years of practice and study. His trees are daubs and slashes of green, violet and blue, dotted with white, yet from a few paces they clearly read as fir and cedar with sunlight shining through. Falling waters are sweeps of white, blue and violet as if photographed in slow motion. The boulders are broadly brushed khaki, black and violet that assume a monumental presence, glistening wet in sun and shadow.
Completing the forest setting, a massive steel sculpture by Aaron Loveitt of Bellingham unmistakably mimics the broken circle of an ancient, decayed cedar stump, even to the rusty color.
And fox statues are everywhere. In wood and aluminum—cast in a homemade forge from melted beer cans—they greet you at the door. It’s likely they have messages to impart, so watch them closely.
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