Trine Bumiller is the most intimate landscape painter. She captures the vastness of the western terrain in oil, but she does it tree by tree, branch by branch, twig by twig.
Bumiller paints big things in small ways and there is a magic to his method, an intimacy that can only be captured when an artist checks their ego and resists the urge to use one paint to capture a whole string of mountains or the entire expanse of open space. sky – acknowledging instead that the majesty of nature is best rendered by zooming in on detail.
As a scene painter, she is most interested in how light travels along an individual leaf or ripple of water or how the vivid colors of a single spring flower contrast beautifully with the solid tones of the skeletal branch that nurtured its birth.
Bumiller edits his scenes like a photographer. She cuts the trunks of trees or the tips of their highest shoots, so that the spectators concentrate on the center, on the soul of these living beings. Its flowers, seedlings and vines are strangers, but always seem to share their most personal details when viewed.
Over the course of his career, Bumiller has balanced this narrowness of perspective by placing his paintings in series of works or arrangements that address larger ideas and issues. His “100 Paintings for 100 Years” were an amalgamation of close-ups of plants and water that came together to evoke the total geography of Rocky Mountain National Park. His “In Memoriam” featured 13 portraits of individual golden spruce trees that told a complete story about an entire endangered species.
His last personal exhibition at the Emmanuel Gallery, entitled “Garden of Eden”, falls into this category of projects. The show features 17 random paintings of trees, shrubs and weeds, but they come together to form something like a formal garden. Oil on panel paintings surround gallery visitors on all sides, creating an immersive interior experience that reflects the feeling of being in a beautiful backyard at the height of spring when the energy of nature is on full display. .
Bumiller not only provides an exhibition of recent work, but also an enveloping environment, enhanced by the fact that she painted horizontal black stripes along all of Emmanuel’s walls before hanging her work there.
The lines, she says in her artist statement, are a nod to Emmanuel’s history as a church; she remembers seeing such lines on old cathedrals when she was a student in Italy. But they double up as something like a slotted wooden fence that contains his conceptual garden in a solitary space.
That works. Emmanuel, built in 1879, was once a sacred site, and it boasts of being the oldest standing religious structure in Denver. It began as an Episcopal chapel, then spent decades in the 20th century housing a Jewish synagogue. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But the building has had a very different personality since 1973, when it was absorbed into the Auraria campus, the urban renewal project that made way for three educational institutions, the University of Colorado at Denver, the Metropolitan State University of Denver and Community College of Denver.
The Romanesque-style building still looks like a church from the outside, but the interior was converted years ago into a white cube-style art gallery where exhibits have taken it away from its original purpose . A recent artist showed works made from his own body hair, another exhibited a series of photos of his neighbors that he took behind the blinds in his bedroom without their knowledge – all interesting materials, of course, but apart from the usual things you find in a working church.
But Bumiller’s exposure is transformative for Emmanuel, and in such a beautiful way. She respects her past, allowing her paintings to fall in harmony with the architecture rather than trying to erase it.
Emmanuel’s remodeling at the time included the placement of a series of small round windows along the top of its high walls, and Bumiller made a series of site-specific paintings that are to the exact dimensions of the windows. They hang alternately – a round painting between each round window on all four sides of the gallery – so you get the actual nature scenes visible through the windows, interspersed with scenes imagined by Bumiller on the same subject, but with exaggerated colors and shapes.
It’s a seamless blend that reminds visitors how nature and art can truly complement each other.
Bumiller’s larger paintings, 4 or 5 square feet, have their own personality and come with different levels of abstraction. The artist presents them mainly in the form of diptychs, painting on wooden panels bound in a single work but remaining distinct.
The two-part “Chokecherry” is an example. The upper part features the familiar plant with its reddish branches against a light blue background that looks like the sky. The bottom half is the same plant but placed in front of a darker blue background that looks like water.
The largest work in the exhibition, ‘Two Trees’, is actually presented on five panels, each hanging vertically. Again, the foreground of the image remains constant but the background changes from green to purple to yellow. Viewers can get what they want from these pronounced color changes, but they serve to bring out different visual aspects of the trees, perhaps as the sunlight changes throughout the day or the changing weather can alter the way we experience them.
Bumiller insists here on spiritual ideas; there are clearly biblical references in the title of the exhibit, and the two trees in the five parts are meant to represent the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. By emphasizing the building’s past as a church rather than a gallery, she shifts her work into the realm of the religious – so much so that a believer in divine powers might legitimately be tempted to pray during of this exposure, or, in certain cases, to choose its fruits.
And Emmanuel Gallery feels sacred in this embodiment, but not necessarily in an evangelical sense. Godliness reflects more how we might worship nature, or the tranquility, or the organic comfort of any quiet, contemplative space.
In this way, the “Garden of Eden” serves its own kind of higher purpose. It’s an oasis, a place to go and relax in the summer when many people feel stressed. It has the aura of a garden, but with air conditioning. It’s there if you need it.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO:
“Garden of Eden” continues through August 5 at Emmanuel Gallery, Larimer and 10th Streets on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver. It’s free. Info at 303-315-7431 or emmanuelgallery.org.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to receive entertainment news straight to your inbox.