Quivering Trees of Aspen
Quivering Trees of Aspen
Albright, Ivan Le Lorraine
Oil on Masonite
14 x 18 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum, Volunteers of the Sales/Rental Gallery
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
Quivering Trees of Aspen, a 1964 oil on panel by the American artist Ivan Albright, quite typifies Albright’s work of the 1950s and 1960s. Here, at the foot of a steep mountain backdrop, two intersecting streets are shown lined with small 19th century domestic structures completely surrounded by a low picket fence. Remnants of snowfall are seen on the rooftops and on the rugged mountain slopes while heavy accumulations remain in lumpy piles along the streets where several human figures dressed in brightly colored clothes are walking or standing. In the foreground, tall twisted and leafless trees reach upward toward the sky creating a screen that partially obscures the views of both the background mountains and the nearby houses. And at scattered locations, long spear-like icicles hang threateningly above the houses.
In many respects, this work is simply another landscape scene which in its use of excessive detail is stylistically reminiscent of many American primitive paintings. When we look beyond the superficialities of the subject itself, a disturbing quality is clearly evoked. For the old houses seem structurally unstable and the dense tangle of tree branches forms an intricate web which, coupled with the splatter of minute and nondescript forms, clutter the surface of the composition creating a horror vacui effect that disperses compositional focus and diminishes visual clarity of definition. Moreover, disconcerting conflicts repeatedly appear, for the trees are barren, yet life-like shoots would seem to be sprouting from the extremities of dead branches. And at the same time a warm glow of yellow light sweeps down from the dark and gloomy sky, enlivening the tree branches and unifying the fragmented composition.
Indeed, the scene is mournful and simultaneously reassuring for it presents a sense of new life and renewed vitality within the context of death and imminent decay. And such vitality is further intensified by the lively but insignificantly small human figure seen in the otherwise desolate foreground setting. Albright has effectively orchestrated color and form in such a way as to impart a haunting mood to the subject by focusing attention on winter; death and decay on the one hand, and life, vitality and the promise of renewal and rebirth on the other. This pattern of co-existent opposites is of course the actuality of the life process and is the dominant mystical feature implicit in all of Albright’s works executed throughout his long and productive career. This painting is thus to be interpreted far more as a psychic landscape than a physical landscape; its poetry is visible to the mind rather than to the eye.
Ivan Albright was born in North Harvey, Illinois, in 1897 and studied at various centers in the United States and in Europe. He held three Ph.D. degrees as well as several honorary doctorates and exhibited widely here and abroad. Throughout his career he remained a realist but, unlike many other realists of his generation, he introduced mystery and magic into his paintings and today his works are recognized as outstanding examples of “the Magic Realist manner”. Albright died in 1983 at the age of 86 years.