It’s bitter cold and snowing outside as I write this, but I’m wishing more than anything that I could go for a hike. I’ve spent the past several weeks working on the stories you’ll find in this issue on landscape painters, and I have to admit I’m a little jealous of all the time they get to spend outdoors. So even though I won’t be lacing up my hiking boots anytime soon, I’ve been trying to appreciate the connections to the natural world that I can still have while going about my daily life, however brief they may be. I take pleasure in the views of grassy fields and distant mountains that I get while running on my favorite trails, and I’m in awe of the truly spectacular sunrises that I get to see almost every morning on my way to work.
Personal connections to nature like these are essential for the landscape painters we profile this month. Cover artist Kevin Courter has spent years in the Northern California countryside that he now paints, and that deep, personal knowledge shines through his work. And it doesn’t matter whether the landscape one inhabits is dramatic or mundane, as portfolio artist Peter Hoffer eloquently reminds us: “Landscapes I’m familiar with are generally less than spectacular in their topography. It’s the idiosyncrasies that convey the nuances of the place,” he says. “Meaning is found within the small branches, the meandering brook, or the inconsistent density of foliage.”
What’s important, I think, is that paying attention to the natural world takes us away from ourselves. It shifts our focus off of human-centered thinking and connects us instead to something far more vast and full of wonder. California artist John Burton, who’s also included in this month’s portfolio of landscapes, puts it best: “As we become overwhelmed by our video games and traffic jams, I feel people need that connection with God’s creation,” he says. “That is why someone works a long week and then goes for a hike on the California Coast—to reconnect. In the same way, someone can view a landscape painting and it feeds their soul.” Whether one believes the natural world to be created by a higher power or by scientific forces is irrelevant in this case; what matters is that we connect with something more extraordinarily wonderful than we would otherwise encounter. I hope the landscape paintings in this issue help you do that. -February 2011