Frank Webster, Red Sand, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 in (22.86 x 30.48 cm).

Isabel Sullivan Gallery Presents Frank Webster’s Latest, Magnificent Landscapes

“Earthed Lightning: Northern Landscapes by Frank Webster” 

At Isabel Sullivan Gallery

Through June 15, 2024

39 Lispenard Street, New York

by Benjamin Genocchio 

“Earthed Lightning: Northern Landscapes by Frank Webster” on view at the Isabel Sullivan Gallery in New York is an exhibition about light. Webster, a talented and experienced landscape painter, has spent a great deal of time exploring the peculiar light emanating from the sky in the remote Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere ranging from Ireland to Iceland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. 

Webster is by now so accomplished as a painter that he works in any and all media — the show includes works in watercolor, graphite, gouache, and acrylic paint, which he applies thinly and safely in layers much in the manner of a classical oil painter. His subject matter is romantic and glorious, to say the least; the vast, untrammeled wilderness of the Arctic Circle. No humans or built structures appear in his paintings, only pristine nature.   

Frank Webster, A Mountain in Spring, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 108 in (182.88 x 274.32 cm).

Frank Webster, Spákonufell, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 108 in (182.88 x 274.32 cm).

Webster typically travels to the remote northern hemisphere in spring and summer when the frozen wilderness is beginning to thaw. There are practical reasons for this decision, chiefly that the weather improves to a point where it is possible for a human being to camp outside and to paint en plein air — and survive. Webster paints what he sees in the landscape, with a fluency, directness and confidence that is nothing short of impressive.  

An added benefit or consequence of painting in the summer months is that from about May to July each year the sun does not properly drop below the horizon resulting, the further north one gets, in a perpetual solar glow that often lasts all night. The White Nights, as they are popularly known, produce a mesmerizing kind of light that Webster reproduces in many of the paintings here, such as, “Katlafjall,” 2022, showing a barren, treeless, textured landscape bathed in a cold blue-gray light.

Frank Webster, Yfir Hálsinn (Over the Ridge), 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 34 x 74 in (86.36 x 187.96 cm).

Summer sunshine and warmth bring life to the arctic circle in the form of fabulously colorful, varied ground shrubbery, the subject of “Spákonufell,” 2017 an enormous vibrant painting depicting the radiant bloom of summer arctic flowers on the south-facing, sunny slope of a mountain range. The rest of the surrounding landscape remains washed in pure white snow and ice, creating an immediate, striking visual contrast. 

“Strandir in the Rain” (2020) is among the most pleasing works in the show because of the simplicity of the scenery and purity of light. The artist presents us with a body of water ringed by land. The time of day is ambiguous, it could be night or day, but it doesn't really matter for nothing stirs in this immense and foreboding wilderness where nature rules supreme. 

Frank Webster, Strandir in the Rain, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 100 in (121.92 x 254 cm).

Frank Webster, Katlafjall, 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 106 in (203.20 x 269.24 cm).

Patience is a virtue when it comes to the venerable art form of landscape painting and Webster has it in spades. He sits out in nature and paints for as long as it takes to capture his fleeting snapshots of the frozen reaches of our planet. Some images are replicated in larger paintings in his New York studio, though I love the sketches: though less impressive in scale and color, they retain the dramatic intensity of the moment. 

Isabel Sullivan Gallery

39 Lispenard Street, New York

Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm
Sunday – Monday: Closed