In past work, midcareer painter Eric Aho investigated two of the four classical elements—air and earth—in bold rural scenes including big-sky landscapes, their horizons pressed low, and broad quarry views, with steep rock walls filling the picture plane. The 19 canvases in “Red Winter,” Aho’s first solo exhibition at DC Moore, explore fire and water, primarily in the forms of blazing forest fires and sheets of ice. They are all from the last two years and are mostly oil on linen.
The wildfire images, presenting the flames at brutally close range, derive some of their emotional power from a tension between voyeurism, tragedy and danger, and their visual force from a confident, near-abstract style. In Red Winter (50 by 80 inches), a chaotic foreground heaped with smoldering embers spews plumes of dense smoke through denuded trees. Aho vividly depicts patches and tendrils of flame with viscous golds against scrapes of searing orange. Blue sky and dabs of thick white clouds appear in the distance behind billowing, gauzy gray columns of smoke. Equally lush and perhaps more ominous owing to its darker palette, Ravine Fire (50 by 60 inches) roils with sumptuous ferocity, the orange and red streaks enmeshed in black and dark gray swaths of ash and shadow. According to the catalogue, the artist’s preoccupation with fire was spurred by observing controlled seasonal burns near his New England home, as well as by Rembrandt’s interpretation of the subject in Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1647). The newest paintings depict empty and eerily still illuminated swimming pools with lines of raging flame in the distance. Inspired by photos of Southern California wildfires near people’s homes, these works powerfully juxtapose expressionism and, in the geometric pools, a kind of abrupt minimalism.
Ice-covered seas and rivers are the subjects of the companion group of paintings. The large Ice Field shows broken slabs, painted with prismatic luminosity, colliding atop a dark body of water. In Ice Cut (1930),a 50-by-70-inch painting inspired by his father’s recollections of harvesting ice as a boy, Aho injects a rare indication of human action: a large rectangular hole in a sheet of ice, revealing black water beneath. Saw marks extend from the outer corners of the section that has been cut away. Whether depicting rampant fire, ice or still water, Aho offers dynamic compositions and an absorbing treatment of his medium.
Photo: Eric Aho: Red Winter, 2008, oil on linen, 50 by 80 inches; at DC Moore.