The Hill Country landscapes of James D. Pendleton remind me of the remark Alan Watts once made about the Wu-Wei School of Chinese landscape painting, “The artist gives up any hope of ‘capturing’ the landscape, choosing instead to just sit there, sometimes for days until, emptied of ego, the landscape paints itself through him.” There is something akin to letting “nature speak through the painter” in these Pendleton studies of hills and rivers, of skies and houses, of the juxtaposition – sometimes poignant but sometimes comical – of the land and the human figure.
In fact, looking more closely at the relationship between nature and civilization in his work, it seems no accident that Pendleton began painting the Hill Country exclusively upon his return from years of wandering in England, Wales, France, Spain, Mexico and throughout the United States. As he remarked, “I returned to discover the landscape I had grown up in was changing, the horizon’s panoramas replaced by fences and housing developments. Landmarks, which a hundred years ago guided the traveler, no longer matter because highways and automobiles have made them obsolete.”
Although there is certainly a sense of history in these landscapes, it strikes me as more poetic than programmatic, not resting on a clichéd vocabulary of the past. There are no “cowboys and indians” for example, no fields of bluebonnets or maidens in chiffon dresses either. Instead, one is invited into a scene already in progress, a narrative that remains indeterminate, requiring extended contemplation to complete. Herein is the power of his painting: it evokes the sense of mystery which is inextricable from beauty itself.
--Excerpted from the forthcoming—
HIDDEN IN THE HILL COUNTRY: Profiles Along the Arts Trail
By Kirpal Gordon