To look at the placid images painted by Minnetonka artist Nancy Chakrin, now on exhibit at Sholom Home West in St. Louis Park, you might not believe that they are an outgrowth of her experience with violence. This is not the kind of violence that involves guns or fists, but it leaves scars that are both physical and psychological. Chakrin is a breast cancer survivor.
The paintings and giclee (pronounced “gee-clay”) prints in Tranquil Waters and Landscapes are one of the artist’s tools in visualizing and incorporating health into a life that has fought with a killer. Similarly, many residents of the long-term care center at Sholom Home West are struggling with diseases and conditions that threaten to shorten or end their lives.
“The invitation to hang this show at a long-term care facility has provided a most rewarding art experience for those residents who could not be transported to an art gallery or museum,” Chakrin said.
Virtually all of the works on display represent bucolic scenes of lakes, rivers, fields and mountains. Chakrin is a fan of big skies and revels in clouds depicted at every time of day, reflecting the changes of sun and weather.
A Minnesota native, and niece of the late renowned Minnesota artist William Saltzman, Chakrin lived for 16 years in upstate New York, not far from the Hudson River. While many of the landscapes depicted are from that area, Minnesotans who have lived close to farms or Lake Pepin may easily mistake the eastern U.S. subjects for spots closer to home.
“My Neighbor’s Farm” has warm rust-reds of autumn foliage that match the oxblood barn paint, melding into a golden field split by a soft blue meandering stream that might easily be mistaken for a site along the Minnesota River near Jordan.
Chakrin admits the influence of the 19th-century landscape artists from the Hudson River School, such as Frederick Church. Their paintings often veer toward photographic realism. Chakrin’s work, however, is closer to that of Monet and the Impressionists.
Nowhere is that more clearly shown than in “Dawn’s Light at Lake Superior.” This triptych is reminiscent of Monet’s “Water Lilies” in its Impressionist style and use of color. This is where the comparison ends. Monet gloried in the garden; cultivated flowers in an artificial pond. Chakrin shares the awe of nature at its finest, with reflections of sunlight peeking through the breaking storm clouds upon distant waves, creating flower-like spots of light on America’s blue inland sea.
Whether painting places with happy memories — like the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca or further downstream at St. Paul’s Hidden Falls — the focus is on the scenery. There is scarcely a scene where a human face or form intrudes upon the peace of the landscape.
Since her paintings are instruments of healing, the artist deliberately excludes anyone but the viewer from participating in the experience, allowing each person to project themselves into the scene and take or give to it just what is needed to make it complete.
“As a breast cancer survivor, my goal in painting the landscape is not only to provide serenity and peace for myself, but to offer tranquil and healing images for all to enjoy,” Chakrin said. “Especially for those going through cancer treatment and other debilitating illnesses.”
For all of the familiarity of many landscape scenes — a boat tied at a dock, evergreens growing precariously on a rocky bank along Lake Superior — none of the paintings is sentimentalized. These are not candidates for a duck-stamp competition.
This is particularly true of a series of paintings done in a more modern, almost abstract style, of mountains in Scotland. Here Chakrin departs from the more naturalistic palette of her American landscapes and experiments with explosions of bright colors and stronger textures.
Few people venture into Sholom Home West’s long-term care wing willingly. No one wants to be ill. Tranquil Waters and Landscapes gives visitors and residents to Sholom Home West a happy, healing reason to visit, to view, to enjoy or to be healed.
In October, Friendship… The Art of the Practice, by Laurie Ellis-Young and Nancy Chakrin, will be published by Tristan Publishing. The volume is a collection of photographs depicting friends practicing yoga in spectacular settings around the world.
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