The countryside, disrupted

The influence of Lindsey Ries’ rural upbringing shows in recent paintings

FULTON — Lindsey Ries grew up on a farm on the southern edge of Wisconsin’s verdant and deep-valleyed Driftless Area, and she absorbed some of her earliest art lessons in the studio her mother kept there.

“I would come home from school and sit on her studio floor and watch her paint,” Ries said.

Cathy Martin, Ries’ mother, works the land and also paints it in hyperrealist detail. Ries’ recent paintings of barns, farmhouses and empty rural landscapes may appear photorealistic from a distance, but walk up close to her new paintings at Gallery 360 and you see the illusion come purposely undone.

A farm’s silos and low-lying outbuildings are set off from the gray sky by a halo of hot-pink gesso, the underpainting left exposed. Her painting of the field where she’d go with her parents and siblings to watch the sunset from atop hay bales gets the impressionistic effect of rollered-on paint. Often, the lines of her charcoal underdrawing are left visible.

“I like to show the skeleton of the painting,” she said.

Mother and daughter, both painters. One graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with an MFA and the other is a self-taught painter who went to drafting school and once took a job working for John Deere in Dubuque, Iowa.

Guess which.

ries nola's new house“She told me it was her job to draw the nuts and bolts,” Ries said.

The farm where Ries grew up is still in the family; her sister and brother-in-law raise beef cows and pigs on its 158 acres. And even though she lives now in Lowry Hill, that land still occupies a large territory in Ries’ imagination and in her art, as do the other wide-open rural spaces of the Upper Midwest.

Working from photos taken throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas, Ries depicts a rural anywhere.

“The way I paint them, they all kind of fit together,” she said. “They all look like the same space.”

The quiet, contemplative nature of her unpeopled landscapes is in tension with the moments of abstraction Ries inserts into the scenes. A flat layer of latex house paint makes pink and yellow farm sheds pop off the panel.

Ries said she aims for a delicate balance in her paintings, depicting believable environment “but at the same time creating little moments of — I guess you could call it ‘disruption.’”

Before she landed at MCAD, Ries’ winding education path took her through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she soaked up the work of American realist painters like Edward Hopper and Charles Sheeler. The influence of Sheeler, who hardened Cubist influences into a precise, razor-edged realism, often painting infrastructure and industrial architecture, seems especially strong here.

But then there’s Hopper, who would isolate moments of quiet and almost eerie stillness in the busy city. Ries translates that approach to the Midwestern countryside.

Ries retains a farmer’s relentless work ethic. She said she’s completed over 40 paintings this year, and all but three hanging in Gallery 360 were produced in the last two or three months.

Her mother visited Ries’ apartment earlier this year. A master gardener, Martin advised against Ries’ plans for a container garden on her shadowed balcony.

She also offered her take on her daughter’s recent paintings.

“With this show she said, ‘You know, it looks like home,’” Ries recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, it does.’”


5c2d895f-e076-4cad-98a7-9c32bbe196d3From Here to There

When: Through Sept. 25

Where: Gallery 360, 3001 W. 50th St.

Info:, 925-2400