The Wallkill Near Tuttletown is a decidedly dreamlike view across a stream to a weirdly barren landscape. Flinty rocks emerge from the still, light-streaked water near the shore. Three bare-limbed, twisted trees rise from the land. Farther away, just beyond a knob of bald ground, a simple gray house looks sadly isolated. Illuminated by a cold, chalky light, the place seems haunted, purgatorial and, as such, more mindscape than landscape.
In a picture like The Freer Place, the oneiric gives way to Wexler’s more familiar naturalism. An old farmhouse and barn engulfed by trees and bushes, a glimpsed pond, rumpled, scrubby land all around: the facts are attentively recorded with a fine, flickering brush. But still the real is suffused with romance. A rosy evening sky and a seemingly uninhabited house establish a feeling of melancholy, as though the painting (or the painter) were mourning modernity’s abandonment of nature.
West Coast Landscape is a spectacular panoramic view of mountainous terrain painted in a meticulous, sharp-focused style that calls to mind such Renaissance painters as Bellini or Dürer. A dry surface and bleached hues give it a look of fresco. The foreground is occupied by a shadowy pile of craggy boulders. Beyond is a peaceful, sunlit valley where farm fields are sparsely punctuated by trees and a few buildings. In the distance an elevated highway is visible, its modernity incongruous against the awesome, primordial backdrop. There is something mythic about this painting. It doesn’t seem an objective study of a particular site but rather a pantheistic vision of creation.
View From Olana alludes to the eccentric castle that Frederic Church built for himself in the mountains. We do not see the building, but look down on a clearing and clusters of trees and beyond to a body of pale blue water under a pale sky and orangy-white clouds at the horizon. Hardly visible in the distant waters are parallel streaks of pink – an unexpected effect that brings the work to life.
A surreal and almost fresco-like painting, Rancho Bernardo refers to an upscale community in the northern part of San Diego. Although this area consists of canyons and rolling hills, the natural landscape is obscured by man's encroachments. Here, Wexler depicts houses nestled comfortably and organically along the base of a highly exaggerated rock formation but also balanced precariously on its few level surfaces further up. This state of imbalance is further accentuated by a monstrous boulder on a distant hill that threatens to slide off at any moment. An expansive home perched at the top of the outcropping seems to be a castle whose inhabitants view the lower terrain with an air of benevolence.
In Western Landscape #2, the sweep of a rugged western vista suggests on first glance the romantic majesty of a Bierstadt but on closer inspection one is led to a more metaphysical view. The foreground's clusters of flat rocks and boulders seem to be stepping stones toward the towering and jagged, almost volcanic, protrusions that together form both a protective barrier and walls that prevent escape. Consistent with this, a tree-lined lake inside the valley gives the appearance of a rock-strewn stream but lacks any obvious source or egress. Even Man fails to intrude as a bridge on approach disappears forever into a stand of trees, and a thin ribbon of road comes tantalizingly close but ultimately veers away to vanish into the shadows.
The Catskills from Mohonk depicts farms interspersed among the forests inside the valley between New York's Shawangunk Ridge and its neighboring mountains. This is more than a birds-eye view of nature, but rather it is grounded securely in the steep winding of a country road that snakes gradually upward to the artist. Yet, even the foreground is broken off as one sees only the tops of a row of small trees at the edge of a field, to reveal a cluster of farm buildings basking in the sun at the bottom of the slope. One's attention is then drawn inexorably along the valley toward the Catskill Mountains hiding in the distance, barely visible through a bluish haze.
Storm King was known in the 1960's as the epicenter of a landmark battle by environmentalists to restore and preserve the aesthetic and recreational qualities of land and water. The importance of these values was recognized much earlier among 19th century artists who painted the Hudson River. George Wexler painted many of the same vistas as the Hudson River School artists of the time, but his style is distinctly contemporary. In "Storm King Near Cold Spring", the river flows calmly against the backdrop of a mountain densely packed with trees. The shadows of clouds rest briefly on Storm King's slopes as the setting sun suffuses the canvas with an intense glow. The viewer watches as light dances on the nearby trees and feels an overwhelming calm. This reverie is broken not only by the coming darkness, but by the unease of water plants, perhaps alien, that spread uncontrollably into the channel.
The imagery of Outcropping is at once naturalistic and mythological. We see a thrust of rocks isolated in a wide plain of cultivated fields themselves rimmed by low mountains in the far distance. Set on top is a tree that leans forward as if navigating a boat of survivors, broken but alive, across the sea. But unlike Gericault's raft, the romanticism here is calm and reassuring - one imagines this to be a place of safety rather than unrest.
In Al Hess's Farm #3, Wexler seeks to capture the morning light against the backdrop of a New Paltz farmstead. And yet his canvas, as infused as it is with detail, is strangely silent as if the farm has yet to awake. Indeed, the flat geometry of the rocks lining the river appears shattered, suggesting that despite appearances this farm is not at peace. Above the trees the brightening sky is so expansive that the myriads of terrestrial elements, mostly still in shade, seem to collapse inward.