Excerpt from Portrait of two artists and a single landscape, by Todd Kimm, Icon, November 12, 1998.
Easker, 53, a former high school art teacher, took up the Iowa landscape in 1990 following a concentration on still lifes and figure studies. In one sense I am very surprised that Im doing landscapes, He said. I was never particularly interested in the landscape as subject matter. But a regular 40 mile commute to classes at the UI and the self reflective writing he did as part of one of those classes changed all that. I started thinking about my childhood experience, he said. Time spent as a child on the farm of family friends near Ely made a lasting impression. My parents played cards, and I would pretend to be asleep so theyd let me stay, he remembered. During the 70s Easker worked at the Cedar Rapids Art Center. His exposure to the centers collection of Grant Wood and Marvin Cone landscape classics contributed to his shift as well. All of those things kind of coalesced, and I started tentatively working on landscapes, he said. And what I found is that theyre very interesting for me to work on, and I just see the possibilities continue to present themselves.
I like the challenge of making Iowa interesting, he continued. Because I think popularly its not thought of as a very interesting place because we dont have the big scenic wonders. Easker said his best paintings are suggestive of the controlled energy that seems just beneath the surface, disguised by the general tranquillity and the subtle character of the Iowa landscape. This energy is most palpable for Easker in the spring, the season when most of this works are set.
In his Artist Statement, Easker writes, The paintings are not postcard images but images discovered and drawn mostly from the Iowa spring when the rolling hills, wet grasses, freshly plowed fields and morning light create abstract visions and thoughts of new beginnings.
The Midwestern landscape, including the complex interplay of simple lines (from the low horizon to crop rows), bears abstract qualities by nature and design. Harold Gregor, an abstract painter during the 60s was attracted to the subject and became the first Midwestern landscape painter to earn national prominence. Younger artists like Easker, realists from the start, have entered from the opposite door, integrating abstract qualities into their more objective work.
Most of the views depicted in Easkers works are within 40 miles of Cedar Rapids. Traveling the country roads discovering scenes that catch his eye, Easker snaps photographs from which he works later in the studio. The process of painting becomes a type of second discovery, he explained, because I see things, details and relationships, that I never saw initially. Easker likened his process of discovery to that of the viewers: Because of how I paint, people tend to approach them in much the same way that I paint them: They look at the works and then start looking into them further and start discovering some of the same things that I discover.
The dimensions of many of Easkers paintings mimic the landscape itself, following the horizon line of up to 10 feet at a height of 24 inches or less. Jappa Ridge with Cows is a 9 x 54 inch slice of almost pastel horizon dotted with distant cows.
The expanses of more realistic works like Iowa Creek Spring and View Near Windham engender a pleasant vertigo of falling into the scenes.
Although many of the works resemble photographs when reproduced, the originals cannot be mistaken for anything but paintings. Easkers work offers a kind of entrance (or entrance)--stopping just short of optical illusion or out and out sorcery--that a photograph could never generate. even so , Easkers work at least partly occupies the photo realist terrain. The panoramic view, after all, is a photographic convention, and the fact that the paintings resemble photographs when photographed is an irony that deepens the implications of the work. Another striking quality of Easkers work is its juxtaposition of natural, more wild landscape with the measured restraint of mans incursions, especially agriculture. In Northeast Spring View, a gnarled creek lies in a sharp contrast to a fields plowed to black powder.
Such parallels, abundant but easily overlooked in the Iowa landscape, explode when framed by Easker, creating a tension and energy that lends the works an intoxicating electricity.
The fact that this showing features just four of Easkers more recent paintings points to the time it must take to create one (the most exact accounting he would give was a long time).