By Brandon Mennenoh ’15
In reality, I was standing in the Mills Gallery getting shelter from the below freezing temperatures and the biting winds. But in my mind, I was taken back to western Iowa in July, close to 100 degrees, when the corn and soybean crops are the most beautiful shades of green and sway in the summer breeze.
Being from a farming background, I was transported home by the paintings of John Preston on display at Mills Gallery. Preston captures the scenes of rural Iowa counties using watercolor, pastels and oil paints and thus creates a window into nature.
During the artist’s reception on Feb. 27, Preston told guests that he often paints from his car and that he has to rely on light sketches and memory. “The image is changing constantly. Sometimes I miss things, and I have to draw something I thought I saw,” Preston says. “The lighting changes in 20-minute intervals. I paint before 10 and after 2 when the light is just right.”
Preston likes to paint in spring, late summer and early fall when the corn and beans are starting to turn and there is diversity in the landscape. He says he was awestruck by the sideways lightning during his first Iowa thunderstorm in August. “It was a once in a lifetime moment. I would love to paint more storms like that.”
I love how Preston shows the entire horizon in some of his pieces. It gives the viewer plenty to take in. The detail in the paintings is striking—from the sky and the plants to the barns and the silos. Preston paints the sky in a different manner in each painting. You’ll see everything from a cloudless summer’s day to light cloud cover to a lightning flash across the sky.
While a majority of his paintings depict Iowa summers, the artist captures the same effect in his painting of a harvested cornfield in late autumn. The use of color truly brings the piece to life. Viewing his work is a very calming experience. I could honestly get lost in the paintings for hours.
My absolute favorite painting was a watercolor piece that depicted lines of round hay bales. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I remembered climbing on top of hay bales back at the family farm—entertaining myself for hours as I jumped from one to the next. Back then, I was king of the world. I was a super hero— or whatever I wanted to be until the sun began to set and it was time to go back inside.