The energetic paint handling in Eric Aho’s work is like a shot of adrenaline for contemporary painters. In a solo exhibition at the New Britain Museum of American Art, Aho presents a selection of paintings (many of which were shown at DC Moore last year) that fuse portraiture and landscape, as well as a new group called the “Continental Series (War Paintings).” These small-scale canvases, made en plein air, trace the path his father’s engineering battalion traveled from Normandy to the Czech border during World War II. For Aho, the process of painting binds the artist with the history embedded in the landscape, and puts him in spiritual touch with the soldiers–and painters–who came before him. His agitated brushstrokes seem to be their work as well as Aho’s.
[Image at top: Eric Aho, “Continental Series (War Paintings),” oil on wood panel or linen, each panel 16 x 20 inches horizontal or 20 x 16 inches vertical.]
Aho has long been interested in the history of the landscapes he paints, and in the early 2000s he began visiting historic battlefields. According to the press release for the show, he studied declassified military operations reports gathered from the Office of Military History, and the information they contained crystallized his idea of undertaking a painting pilgrimage. The exhibition includes vintage photographs of his father’s battalion (found in an old shoe box), excerpts from the official reports, and pages from the journal Aho kept as he followed the soldiers’ once-perilous route. Aho’s paintings, unfettered by contemporary doubt, evoke the gestural abstraction of the post-war period–think Willem de Kooning meets Joan Mitchell. His ongoing interests in memory, culture, oral and written military history, and art history coalesce into vivid form in an ambitious and resonant project. As the show was being installed, Aho had completed more than fifty individual paintings.
“Eric Aho: An Unfinished Point in a Vast Surrounding,” Batchelor Gallery, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut. Through September 11, 2016.
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