Matsiguam Narrows (1986)
72.0 x 65.5 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
Tom Uttech was born in 1942 in Wisconsin. He attended Layton School of Art and the University of Cincinnati and received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
By the end of graduate school, Uttech felt disillusioned by the demands of the commercial art world, and from 1969 to the early 1970s, he quit his artistic practice and taught at the University of Wisconsin. But, his internal creative motivations never left his life, and Uttech reignited his practice with conviction for his interest in painting the wilderness and wildlife.
Shortly after his return to painting, in 1975 and again in 1977, his work was included in the Whitney Biennial, and he quickly resigned from teaching to become a full time artist. Uttech’s landscapes are inspired by time spent in the wilderness, but he does not photograph or sketch while exploring the outdoors. Instead, he constructed his paintings from memory, fantasy, and lived experience.
One of his primary inspirations is the Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, which is only accessible by canoe. To build his composition, Uttech began with a charcoal drawing, painted the brown and black color in the drawing, and then added lighter tones from that foundation. His titles are reconfigured words culled from an Otchipwe dictionary.
Metaphor is employed throughout his practice to awaken visual moments where a viewer can unearth and question their relationship to the wilderness and American landscape. This metaphoric quality can make his paintings appear haunting or steeped in American nostalgia. There can also be a threatening tone to many of his landscapes, with animals consuming the composition in overwhelming volumes. His work is in the tradition of Caspar David Friedrich and Albert Bierstadt, among others.
In Chicago, and the larger Midwest, Uttech’s environmentalism and distinct approach to painting landscapes from memory or fantasy operate as an individual voice apart from many of the artistic movements occurring at the time. In this, he reminds us of the importance to create not for approval but for one’s internal passion.
Matsiguam Narrows (1986) is from a mid point in Uttech’s painting practice, capturing his dedication to visualizing compelling landscape scenes.
The landscape work depicts the water’s edge of a riverbank in a deeply wooded forest, back-dropped by a cliff’s edge. Beyond the cliff line of the mountain, in the upper left corner of the composition, is a golden setting sun met at the horizon line of a light blue body of water.
The overall work has a haunting beauty, an almost eerie calmness that is enhanced by the use of luminous light and deep color. In the upper left corner, light emanates from the farthest point in the scene along the horizon line, which creates an obscure foreground full of silhouettes and dark spaces in shadow.
A dimmer, warm, burnt-orange light dances from the left side of the composition across the riverbank onto the calm, glassy water below. The amber tones that flutter across the bottom of the composition contrast with the overall dark olive, cool mauve, and deep brown tones throughout the forest landscape, and draw the viewer towards the riverbank edge and calm water below.
Through the use of perspective, layering, and compositional placement, Uttech created a strong sense of depth and space in the work, which portrays the landscape as a vast unspoiled terrain. One way this is achieved is through scale; the branches of trees are higher on the picture plane than the edge of the cliff in the horizon.
These elongated tree trunks imply a monumental height and deep space that exists beyond the composition. This is a common quality in Uttech’s work, often used to depict animals overpowering a scene and landscape.
The dark shadows, lonely riverbank, and dense plant life in the composition also summon an air of looming mystery or unknown danger across the scene.
One is left to wonder what gets lost in the thick forests and what emerges in the cover of night. In Matsiquam Narrows, Uttech created a primal forest scene that evokes tranquility and peace. However, as the setting sun darkens the landscape, the hidden mystery within the wooded shadows is conjured.