in the making

Observing the materials and methods of groundbreaking landscape artist Gregory Euclide.

Gregory collects items in the woods near his Minnesota home.

The gathering hands pluck a pinecone, pinch moss, dig for roots and transfer them to pockets. The wandering feet maneuver across fallen trees as the eyes scan what has somehow come to be called landscape. The artist’s mind thinks about what we think about when we’re in nature, as if we could ever be out of it. As if two hinges and a door could ever hold it back.

(DETAIL) Diverted from the valley and restored for your holiday, 2012. Acrylic, Eurocast, false cleavers, fern, found foam, mylar, paper, pencil, pinecone, sedum, sponge. 49 x 49 x 9.5 inches (framed).

Pinecones, moss, roots, twigs and flowers soon find themselves in unfamiliar metal drawers. Some will be chosen right away. Others will have to wait. But eventually, those hands return, and these bits of earth will adorn a new landscape. Trees and ravines rise off the page with resplendent depth, yet mix with found garbage in the process. For artist Gregory Euclide, such mingling of materials isn’t simply commentary. It’s the way things are now.

“Foam can be found everywhere—I find it on the beaches of France and in the canyons of Colorado,” says the gatherer, creator and high school art teacher. “It is a product we produced, continue to use and have no effective way of breaking down. We can’t deny that foam is as much a part of nature as stone.” So instead of denying it, Gregory uses foam to represent rocks in his work. He positions used cigarette butts to represent bails of hay. Gregory’s material choices for his 3D relief paintings—that have positioned his work in the spotlight and on the cover of Bon Iver’s Grammy Award-winning album—are more about our imprint on nature than the adulation of nature itself. “Every step I take destroys something, but that is the natural process,” says a man whose own process is perhaps more insightful, more sober and ultimately more visually ensnaring than others.

This swath of Gregory’s materials highlight the intricacy of his work. Pinecones, moss and leaves are set apart into bags and drawers, and are later incorporated into the structure of Gregory’s works. No shortcuts are taken in the making of these pieces, as Gregory even constructs his own tiny trees by taking twigs, applying glue and rolling them in moss to create a representation of real life vegetation. Cutting, peeling, gluing and layering are all part of the time-consuming process that Gregory takes on when he develops a new work. “It takes a long time. The actual painting and drawing part takes about a week, but the collecting, drying and creating of all the elements in the work takes much longer. The moss, trees and organic matter come from my land and are available only at certain times of the year. I am constantly looking for new organic materials to use in the work. These materials take time to create and make ready for an archival work of art. Another time-consuming element is the framing of the work. I often work into the frame, making the frame part of the work. This requires the creation of custom frames and extra processes. The dialog with the frame and framing is important in my work and this does not allow for it to be presented traditionally.”

Gregory begins the act of creation outdoors, most often on the land surrounding his Minnesota home. The property is flanked by woods, which evoke emotions that he’s had since childhood when he would hike with his father. Those emotions have evolved with Gregory as he’s aged and transformed them into visual thoughts. “One can really learn a lot about how they think by entering the forest,” Gregory points out as he sets off to collect.

Slid down my front as the rust from lands new soaking, 2012. Acrylic, found foam, geranium, pinecone, buckthorn root, sponge, sedum, hosta, moss, photo transfer, pencil, goldenrod, heuchera. 49 x 49 x 9.5 inches (framed).

He’s not simply out to gather found materials that look like smaller versions of something else once placed in his paintings. He’s out to collect pieces that reflect a human’s capacity to influence not only the physical element of land, but also the political, social and economical implications that are born when landscape art is produced. Gone is the lack of awareness surrounding golden-hued oil paintings depicting virgin vistas and unsoiled pastures that hang in the parlor. Those days are over. Gregory understands this as he picks a pleasant purple flower. “The Loosestrife can appear very beautiful to the casual viewer, but this plant destroys wetlands across the continent,” he says, “There are many of these invasive plants that have drastically changed the land as a result of human mobility. Is it bad, is it good? I am not here to say. I am simply bringing attention to the results of human activity.”

(DETAIL) Accessing the older vignettes manipulated by desire, 2012. Acrylic, found foam, foam insulation, sumac, sage, sedum, pinecone, pencil, paper, fern, found plastic bags, palm, pine needles, photo transfer, cardboard, moss. 49 x 49 x 9.5 inches (framed).

The methods he uses to acquire attention are certainly effective. How can one avoid wanting a closer look at Capture #9, as paint seems to spill from a can, creating a tiny blue river and ecosystem in its wake while pouring over the pedestal on which it stands? Gregory’s end results are products of his time-consuming process of accumulating materials, some of which are only available on his land during certain times of year. The 3D paintings are also the reflection of a skilled artistic hand. Gregory begins his landscapes the way the old masters did; with a brush. But he doesn’t submit to the flat form of a page. “Gregory will be in his studio and you’ll see him start with a painting, then he’ll cut and mold the paper, and then add some more paint and add objects,” says David B. Smith, who exhibits Gregory’s work at his gallery and is one of his biggest fans. Sort, paint, peel, apply—it’s a rhythm Gregory has become so acquainted with that art is an uncorked faucet flowing from him at all times. And this talent stream is precisely what led to his newest body of work.

Capture #9, on display at David B. Smith Gallery, utilizes acrylic paint, buckthorn root, cedar needles, foam, grass, MDF wood, a paint can, sedum, and sponge. The unconventional incorporation of the pedestal into the work speaks of the overflow of nature into fabrication into art into real life, and vice versa.

The lunch bell rings and the high school students bolt for the doors. While they eat, Gregory picks up a brush and dips it into Sumi ink—an ancient, organic product that he slides across the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. In 25 minutes he has produced an intricate yet impermanent work of art. “When I started creating the temporary works on the whiteboard, I was really just having fun on a new surface with an old material,” Gregory explains, “I decided to start documenting the drawings after I had already erased a few. The reaction that people gave when they saw me erasing the original was rewarding. When people were able to see the process and the original, they cared more about the fate of the work.” And with such a thoughtful and original process, it is safe to say that students and scholars alike will continue to be invested in the fate of Gregory Euclide’s take on the land we inhabit.

Story: Eleanor Perry-Smith

For more information about Gregory Euclide’s upcoming exhibition, Observing only the ease of my own slipping toward your unknown, at the David B. Smith Gallery, take a look at the gallery website.

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