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Exploring more than landscapes

Exhibits reveal artists' views of history, war, politics, and nature

Landscapes evoke the natural world, but they are also a lens through which to view history, politics, and even one's own psyche. Several landscapes on exhibit now offer a variety of perspectives, from the intimate to the political.

Peter Edlund's sharp yet melancholy paintings at Judy Ann Goldman Fine Art gaze at the land through the veil of history. Edlund is known for reimagining the work of Hudson River School painters. In "Forgotten America: Chief Uncas Pursues His Rivals Through Quinnipiac (after Frederic Church)," he echoes the early Church painting "West Rock, New Haven" (1849).

Church's vision of rocky bluffs beyond a placid river is sanguine and majestic. The website for the New Britain Museum of American Art, which owns the painting, recounts that in the late 17th century, sympathetic colonists hid anti-monarchists in a West Rock cave when they were pursued by royal agents. Church, in his painting, celebrated the land as a symbol of the spirit of independence from British rule that the United States was founded upon.

Edlund's version takes a different spin on history. He frames his landscape -- the same as Church's, but all in fiery reds -- with silhouettes of leaves and grass and, in the center, a snarling fox. That's Mohegan chief Uncas himself; his name means fox. He allied with the English against other Native American tribes in the 1637 Pequot War and King Philip's War (1675). Edlund's history of West Rock, then, is less glorious than Church's, and more conflicted. He levels his 21st-century gimlet eye on Church's 19th-century patriotic one.

Edlund's "Homeland Security: Near Camp Gila River, AZ (after Ansel Adams)" gives lurid colors to the cacti in a landscape Adams captured in black and white. The site is that of a World War II Japanese internment camp. On a sweeter note, Edlund also interprets the words of Emily Dickinson in three small works.

Hazel Walker's lovely landscapes, shrouded in fog, depict a desolate yet oddly romantic area in the west of Ireland known as the Burren (the Somerville pub is named for it). Where Edlund's paintings pull you out of yourself into the drama on the canvas, Walker's encourage you to retreat. They meditate on internal experiences: solitude, memory, mood.

In each, the mist parts to reveal something unexpected. "Someplace," a beach scene, wraps us in the pearly grays of sky, water, and sand. But a crisp, straight-backed chair sits on the damp sand beside a table covered in white linen and scattered with little pink and yellow objects. They might be gifts, or teacakes. Their color jumps off the painting, yet what they are is up to the viewer to discern.

It's elemental
Gallery Anthony Curtis opened last spring with a focus on Australian and Oceanic art, but owners Anthony Shu and Curtis Rudbart also have a taste for contemporary American work. In "This Is About Us," produced in association with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, two area artists, painter Kathleen Cammarata and ceramicist Nancy Selvage, use landscape to comment on the state of the world.

Cammarata's paintings are abstract, swirling patterns that mix up elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Her political commentary is subdued -- there's a sense of a world pulling apart (one thinks of Yeats's "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold") but her paintings are gorgeous and cohesive. "Neither Accidental Nor Arranged" has red-earth passages churning against a blue sky. She deploys texture expertly; the earth looks embedded with fossils, and transparent streaks over the surface add to the whirling momentum and pull the piece together.

Selvage is more pointed. She makes vessels in the shapes of maps. On one side of "Fertile Crescent (Iraq; 2003)" she traces the waterways of the Tigris and the Euphrates. On the other side, the glaze is smoky, and from the smoke emerge the forms of soldiers atop a tank. A spout appears to pour glistening black-gold oil into a puddle beside the map. Map vessels are a clever conceit; places hold meaning for us, which Selvage spins into convincing arguments.

Animal instincts
We see ourselves in everything, not just landscapes. "Humaneyes," the summer group show at Judi Rotenberg Gallery, takes animals and our projections onto them as a subject. It's a charming exhibit, if a little short on ferocity. Jill Greenberg's photos of posed monkeys give her subjects a spooky allure -- the critter in "Monkeysuit" offers a coy look from under lowered brows that Princess Diana might have trademarked.

Ria Brodell makes delightfully odd drawings that delineate an elaborate fantasy world featuring odd beasts in strange places. Jennifer Amadeo-Holl's animals are secondary to her expert technique; they rise and fall out of mists of paint that disrupt our expectations of space and read like dreams. Only Rune Olsen addresses animals' wild side, in three small but provocative sculptures in which pairs of animals engage in what might be grooming, foreplay, or attack. Olsen deliciously blurs boundaries between friendship, sexual relationship, and enmity.

'Related'

The Power of Place: Peter Edlund and Hazel Walker

Judy Ann Goldman Fine Art, 14 Newbury St., through Aug. 10. 617-424-8468, judygoldmanfineart.com

This Is About Us: Kathleen Cammarata and Nancy Selvage

At: Gallery Anthony Curtis, 186 South St., through Aug. 4. 617-988-8119, galleryanthonycurtis.com

Humaneyes

At: Judi Rotenberg Gallery, 130 Newbury St., through Aug. 5. 617-437-1518, judirotenberg.com

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