A glimpse into middle America

September 15, 2011

In a small but compelling collection of large-scale landscape paintings, D.C.-born artist Ben Ferry succeeds in capturing the essence of his travels to the American Midwest. His exhibit, Upper Middle, featured in the Walsh Building’s Spagnuolo Gallery is relatively small, including only ten paintings, but each of the works is brilliant. Ferry’s merit lies in his ability to transport the viewer from D.C.’s urban chaos to the forgotten worlds of America’s past.

While clearly inspired by Ferry’s Midwestern sojourn, at first glance the collection may appear rather disjointed and sporadic. However, after closer examination, the paintings’ chronological sequence becomes apparent. Beginning the journey in nature’s raw, primitive beauty, the viewer travels through time, eventually ending up in the world of the machine.

The first painting in the exhibit, titled “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” depicts an endless sea, evoking feelings of both awe and menace. The painting, “After the Harvest: North Dakota Wheat Field” further highlights Ferry’s mastery of the landscape, as he juxtaposes vast harvest fields with vibrant clouds to stir the viewer with the piece’s palpable sense of motion. Likewise, “The Event” depicts a series of cows in a valley, staring at the viewer in a suspicious fashion. The cows’ judging eyes give spectators the feeling that they may be interrupting these creatures’ daily routines.

The final painting of the collection, “Parts Yard,” is the perfect conclusion to Ferry’s sequence of works depicting sea, valley, animal, and machine. Portraying a rural farmland overturned with junkyard cars and auto parts, this work highlights Ferry’s oil technique and his ability to make understated details standout amidst a large-scale landscape piece.

In Ferry’s exhibit, the paintings come to life, popping out of the canvas in a way that invites a double-take. In fact, the paintings are so intricate and imaginative that the “hands off” signs and the friendly reminders by guards to keep a distance from the artwork may actually be necessary.

While this exhibit takes place close to home in Georgetown’s own Spagnuolo Gallery, Upper Middle does nothing if not reminds viewers that art can transport us to a world far from the front gates. Ferry provides the fuel for these travels, taking viewers on a personal ride to the landscapes of America that inspired these works. While California and New Jersey may be competing for the most representation at Georgetown, Ferry shows that maybe the Midwest ought to be revisited, as the natural landscapes of Middle America possess an incredible beauty of their own.

Ben Ferry is not asking you to take a road trip through America’s national parks. Your duty? Walk a block off campus, observe his paintings, and he’ll do the rest of the traveling for you.

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