There are only a handful of true “miniature” paintings at the “Biggest Little Miniature Show,” at the Artists’ Co-op Gallery. While many of the 152 pieces in the 11th annual exhibit conform to official size and scale requirements–works must be under 25 square inches and represent subjects at 1/6 their actual size—a majority do not have the minute level of detail and extremely fine brushstrokes characteristic of traditional-style miniature paintings.
Does it matter? Not really. When you’re standing in front of a landscape, a “small” tree and a “miniature” tree are pretty similar.
This is true for Mary Starr’s “Old Fence by the Tree,” a postcard-sized oil pastel depicting a large, twisting apple tree on a hillside. There is green grass, with a split-rail fence and a bit of red sunset in the background, sketchy and pretty in the way that quickly done pastels often are. And it’s familiar, too–a picture you might have seen or walked past a few times. But when it’s done “in little,” as miniature painters call it, something shifts. Just as viewers have to reconcile the scale of an oversized image, an undersized one makes it equally difficult to take the landscape at face value. Shrunken to a fraction of its original size, the scene transforms into something more symbolic and personal than the original subject matter. Maybe you shrink down and become its parts. You are the solitary tree. Your branches reach out over the fence toward the sunset. You match the picture because it matches your own picture of loneliness.
In Carolyn Holt’s oil pastel, “Truckee River Next to Pyramid Lake,” a blue ribbon of river winds through high desert scrub toward fading, purple mountains in the background. A mystery object outside the frame casts a large shadow over the hazy edges of the river bend. It could be a cloud or an alien spacecraft, but if you’ve adjusted your gaze to something more mind-sized, then it could be a looming deadline at work.
Mood and metaphor
Some small works are more mood than metaphor. “Adriatic Sunset,” an acrylic painting by Dorrie Rapp, uses abstract brushstrokes to bring viewers deeper into their heads. In this primitively painted ocean scene, a dark blue body of water foregrounds rising mountains and a black sky. The sun is uneasily bright as it goes down over a primordial-looking sea, casting out a few lines of fire red in the process. It’s a dark landscape, but once-removed in scale. You may feel safe enough to mentally “go there” and consider what it means to be lost at symbolic sea, watching your last seconds of light disappear.
In “Midsummer Evening,” a watercolor by Erin Logan, the addition of a living, breathing horse gives the viewer an automatic avatar to project their shrunken selves onto. Here, the horse stares out over a barbed wire fence into a sunlit field. The viewer sees only the back of the animal—unlike the head-on perspective of the apple tree in “Old Fence by the Tree”—adding a layer of voyeurism to the landscape. You are watching yourself stare out over the fence. It’s another picture of solitude.
Sunshine and gloom
While it’s harder to find blatantly cheerful landscapes in the exhibition—most landscapes kind of lend themselves to gloomy feelings—there are quite a few pictures of sunnier, more lighthearted forests. In Glenda Ray Lavin’s “Shimmer,” dabs of golden ochre oil paint dance along a cross-section of birch tree trunks, loosely suggested by the occasional dot or vertical line of gray on columns of white. It’s a landscape of light and shadow, made into a moment of whimsy by its coaster-like size and tight, incomplete view.
“Harvest Time,” an oil painting by an artist simply billed as “Maurice,” is a picture of peace with its soft trees, soft sky, and soft strip of green grass that grounds the scene. Periwinkle mountains give a sense of space in the distance, and three birds fly into the frame against flossy, white clouds. The birds could be you and your family. The landscape could be a dream. Or a memory. It’s really hard to tell with small paintings if you don’t lean in and look yourself.