BETHEL — It’s the inexplicable awe that Erik Koeppel and Lauren Sansaricq are after.
They’re not merely interested in creating glowing, light-filled canvases that bring viewers back to a previous century of landscape painting. They want their paintings to inspire jaw-dropping awe.
“I’m interested in expressing the feelings of a place, and not just recreating how it looks,” Koeppel said in the studio of the Jackson, N.H., home that he shares with his partner, Sansaricq. “We’re interested not just in reviving an aesthetic, but the philosophy behind it and the relationship between the human body and the landscape.”
If successful, their paintings lead viewers to a higher spiritual plane and a higher notion of beauty.
The couple, who met on a painting retreat in the Catskills Mountains, are modern converts to the old Hudson River School of painting. The Hudson River School espoused a certain romanticism, with large rectangular paintings of spectacular scenery in pastoral settings. Their works suggested a seamless co-existence among man and nature, with idealized scenes.
Koeppel and Sansaricq will show their work beginning this week at the Bethel Historical Society. Their paintings are part of a larger exhibition, “Pictures Serene and Sublime: Traditional White Mountain Art Recaptured.”
The exhibition, which opens Saturday and will remain on view through Aug. 31, brings together well-known White Mountain painters such as George Loring Brown and Benjamin Champney with a new generation of contemporary painters, represented by the talented duo of Koeppel and Sansaricq.
The show is the brainchild of Bethel Historical Society executive director Randall Bennett. He collects art of the White Mountains, and thought it would be interesting to show contemporary work alongside the older pieces.
Both bodies of work were inspired by the same landscape; both were executed using similar techniques.
They are just separated by 100 years or more.
“The first time I saw Erik’s paintings, I knew they were special and unusual,” Bennett said. “There was a quality about them that attempts to capture the intense beauty of the landscape. I thought it would be interesting to put his work and Lauren’s work alongside the paintings that were done a century ago.”
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, dozens of artists came to the White Mountains to experience the summits and forests. Their range extended from Maine to New Hampshire.
After the railroad came to Bethel in 1851, this western Maine community became a stopping point for many artists. The White Mountains represented the American frontier, and artists came here to tell the story of that frontier to an eager public.
By the late 1860s, Bethel had a major hotel, and before long, the railroad would bring passengers up into the mountains. It was a grand era, and Bethel flourished.
“Pictures Serene and Sublime” tells part of that story.
“Visitors will see a variety of western Maine art and White Mountains paintings, both traditional and contemporary, and that’s a main theme of the exhibition,” Bennett said. “It’s kind of fun to show the new work right alongside the older paintings. We think Erik and Lauren are two of the country’s most accomplished artists who are recapturing the beauty reflected in the tradition of the Hudson River School.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: