Hood Quarterly, winter 2016
Katherine Hart, Senior Curator of Collections and Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming
The avanto, or hole in pond ice next to a Finnish sauna, has absorbed Vermont artist Eric Aho for the last nine years. In an ongoing series, he has focused on this subject for one or two paintings per year, and he has executed many watercolor studies (see the slideshow above), as well as smaller canvases and a series of monotypes. Aho, trained as a printmaker, started painting when he moved to northern New England to teach that subject at the Putney School near Brattleboro in 1989. His major interest has been landscape painting, and his work has evolved toward abstraction in recent decades, as is clear from the Ice Cuts series, which eliminates the horizon line and focuses entirely on the shape of this void in the ice. The vantage point of these pictures is slightly above the hole, in fact, and in the large paintings it feels as though one could take a few steps and immerse oneself in the cold depths.
Aho talked about the series in an interview in conjunction with a 2012 Currier Museum of Art exhibition: "Spare and simple as they are, they turn out to be some of my most ambitious paintings. The series corresponds with my father's tales of Depression-era ice harvesting—that is why I've given those dates in parentheses after the title. On a personal level, his deathbed story of ice harvesting as a boy is what drew me in. What held me there is the central black shape. It reminds me of Gustave Courbet, Kasmir Malevich, Ellsworth Kelly, and James Turrell simultaneously. Literally it is the plunge hole in front of my Finnish sauna that I cut new each week in the winter."
This exhibition provides the opportunity to share in Aho's extended meditation upon this austere, simple, yet mesmerizing subject. For the first time, a large group of the series has been gathered together, along with his studies created for the large works. The ice surface and cut reveal color and reflections, while the water in the hole is opaque in some canvases and reflective in others. These aspects are all opportunities for Aho. As the series progresses, for example, he makes the water into a glowing yellow surface, showing the light of an Arctic sky. What becomes apparent in these luminous and complex works is that ice and water, the same substance in different forms, are resubstantiated as paint on canvas in the form of color and brushstroke. They are an intense meditation on winter, and on the art of painting.
This exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art and generously supported the Philip Fowler 1927 Memorial Fund and the Ray Winfield Smith 1918 Memorial Fund.