In Awe of Nature: Local Artist Inspired by Landscape of SoIN

Landscape painter Abby Laux can walk to Patoka Lake Reservoir from her home and art studio, located on a wooded country road in Dubois County. 

She and her husband, Kerry Lueken, both avid hikers, often do walk around the lake, absorbing the contours of the land, the rock formations and the woods as they change through the seasons. They both grew up in this area, and their connection to these woods runs deep. For Laux, the place is also the inspiration for many of her paintings.

The roots of Laux’s enthusiasm for making art out of landscape go back to her childhood. Her father, who died when Laux was 20, was a painter and stay-at-home parent. 

“There were always art supplies around our house,” she said, “and trips to the museum. My sisters and I also made our own kind of art. We found colored rocks – some gold, some deep reds – that we pounded into powder, then let go into a creek to watch the water change color. We dug up clay along creek banks to make our own pottery. With its abundance of natural materials, the woods was our playground and art studio.” 

Laux’s landscape paintings usually begin with her total  immersion into a place: contemplating, sketching, photographing and making notes about unique tints. Back in her studio, she puts her formalist education and training to work designing the space – deciding what to draw attention to with light, what to shadow, what needs to be cropped, and thinking about how line will lead the viewer’s eye. 

Laux’s landscape paintings usually begin with her total  immersion into a place: contemplating, sketching, photographing and making notes about unique tints. Back in her studio, she puts her formalist education and training to work designing the space – deciding what to draw attention to with light, what to shadow, what needs to be cropped, and thinking about how line will lead the viewer’s eye.  

“I might rearrange objects if the painting calls for it,” Laux said. “I am also enthralled with the colors, fluidity and texture of paint itself, and am always aware of how that can be used, as an expressive mark, to record my response to the landscape.”

A private wooded area near Laux’s home is the subject of Laux’s painting titled “Dad’s Presence.” The painting was commissioned by Beth Neukam, who titled the piece to honor Neukam’s late father  with whom she had spent many happy hours in these woods on their family farm. 

“This was his world,” Neukam said of the land represented in the painting. 

The contrast in the painting between the ancient, dense rock formations – called “the cliffs” by Neukam’s family – and the wispy spring trees is striking.  The many tints and hues of green that cover the small patch of earth in the painting suggest the power of life, with so many things growing – even on rocks.

The sunflower fields planted at Patoka Lake as a habitat for birds and bees are depicted in several of Laux’s plein air paintings. 

“I paint en plein air more for practice than for exhibition,” Laux said.  “Sunflowers are especially irresistible to paint on site because their flowers turn their faces to follow the sun, offering the opportunity to capture a field of swiveling color. The time spent in the fields was also memorable because of so much pollen sprinkling down on me and my equipment,” Laux joked.

Laux’s and Leuken’s engagement with the land has led them to hike through some of America’s most stunning National Parks – they have traveled to roughly 20. 

Laux, of course, takes her sketchpads, paints and camera, and has made dozens of beautiful paintings of scenes from their travels. Her painting “Rialto Beach” is of the west coast side of Olympic National Park in Washington state.  

“I love this type of beach in the morning,” Laux said, “when there is moisture in the air and cloud cover. When the tide recedes, leaving tide pools, you can see all types of living creatures – starfish, barnacles – clinging to the rocks.”

On a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Laux made the sketches and notes for her painting “Quiet in the Crowd,” which portrays a scene in a section known as Moraine Park. In the painting, the light falling on the trunks of the Aspen trees and on the distant mountain peak is balanced by the triangle of sun-lit snow in the shadowed foreground.

Laux has had her paintings chosen on a regular basis for the Hoosier Salon Annual Exhibition, the Indiana Heritage Arts Show and the Indiana Artists Club Annual Juried Exhibition. Two of her paintings were recently selected for a noteworthy exhibit, “Historic Indiana En Plein Air,” that is currently traveling to various venues in Indiana until October 2021.

Laux has had her paintings chosen on a regular basis for the Hoosier Salon Annual Exhibition, the Indiana Heritage Arts Show and the Indiana Artists Club Annual Juried Exhibition. Two of her paintings were recently selected for a noteworthy exhibit, “Historic Indiana En Plein Air,” that is currently traveling to various venues in Indiana until October 2021. 

This exhibit combines “the very best of Hoosier art and the accomplishment of statewide historic preservation,” according to Mark Ruschman, the chief fine arts curator at Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. 

The paintings in the show all depict one of Indiana’s 2000 listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Laux painted “Sturm’s Hardware,” a store on the main square in Jasper, and “Evening Prayers,” a rendering of St. Joseph Church in Jasper, for this show. Like many artists, Laux also teaches. She is the full-time art teacher at Springs Valley Junior – Senior High School. Because art was so much a part of her life when she was growing up, she is thrilled when some of her students find their niche in making art, and the art room becomes their safe space.

Laux also considers her landscape paintings to be a form of education for those who view them. 

“I feel there is a great need in the modern world to reinvent a way to coexist with nature and mend society’s alienation from it,” she said. “I hope these paintings inspire viewers to gain a sense of respect and awe for nature and walk out into an intimate conversation with it.” •

For more information about Abby and her landscape paintings, go to abbylaux.com

Story by Judy Cato

Photos by Lorraine Hughes

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