A Sublime Vernacular: The Landscape Paintings of Levine Flexhaug
A Sublime Vernacular: The Landscape Paintings of Levine Flexhaug offers the first overview of the extraordinary career of Levine Flexhaug (1918 – 1974), an itinerant painter who sold thousands of variations of essentially the same landscape painting in national parks, resorts, department stores and bars across western Canada from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. Whatever its variation, a Flexhaug image represents a Western icon, a silent unspoiled Eden that encapsulates the conventions of sublime landscape painting in a kind of painter’s shorthand.
Long valued by a core of contemporary artists and collectors, Flexhaug turned formula painting into a source of wonder, not only because he churned out paintings so quickly using an assembly line method but because these works are so aesthetically compelling. Indeed, the lushness, variety, intensity, luminosity, touch and authentic feeling of his paintings are arguably non pareil in this genre. Interestingly, he hit upon the exact image that a poll taken by the Russian artists Komar and Melamid, in the 1990s, determined is what Canadians most want to see in art.
As engaging as they are aesthetically, Flexhaug’s paintings also offer a point of entry for consideration of significant critical questions ranging from issues of taste, originality versus repetition in art, the appeal of landscape and its iconography – particularly in the Canadian context – to whether art can have integrity as art even if it is unapologetically commercial. Another issue raised by an examination of Flexhaug’s oeuvre is desire. Collecting is by its nature an activity with obsessive tendencies, but the numbers accumulated by those who collect Flexhaugs provide a particular opportunity to analyse aspects of the powerful emotional bonds that exist for many people with art and aesthetic objects. In the case of Flexhaug, more is always more.
Curated by Nancy Tousley and Peter White. Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, Grand Prairie, Alberta