Art Force Academy

River Art: Collective Stream of Consciousness

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

In our roughly 200,000-year history as Homo sapiens, we’ve all seen, swam, drank and watched the sunrise over the glossy surfaces of the world’s rivers at one time or another. Different but the same… these experiences exist outside of place and time as part of our collective experience. As continents split, volcanoes erupt, climates change and species come and go, rivers are here and there, always. And so is river art.

Wiese St Croix
Jerry Wiese | St. Croix River Bluffs in Fall | Reproduction | See it here

Rivers are the lifeblood of the Earth, circulating, renewing and feeding the water cycle. As they traverse the Earth, they touch every soul on the planet in often deeply profound ways. These experiences can be physical, emotional, spiritual or artistic. In all cases, they are essential to living a balanced life on our blue planet.

Today we share just a glimpse of what’s out there. Our SmartArt showcase is bursting at the levies with a deluge of river art – too large for a single post. Following on the heels of last week’s post about bridge art, we take a slow drift downstream to marvel at the variety of these awe-inspiring works of art.

Representation River Art

Rivers don’t need to be reinterpreted to expose their true beauty. Many artists simply paint what they see with representative art. Yet like any art form, a piece of the artist always shines through. Providing a glimpse into the natural world and the eye of the beholder, representation art captures equal elements of feeling and form. Below are just some examples of the representation river art available in our Community Art Showcase, starting with Darlou Gams’ Golden Twilight.


Darlou Gams | Golden Twilight | Reproduction

As reflective surfaces, rivers take on the attributes of their surroundings. They are the first mirror – a reflection of self, along with the world’s oceans and lakes. This makes light a crucial factor for determining the river art’s impact and meaning.

In Golden Twilight above, the artist captured a moment in the “golden hour”. Compared to the experience of Blue River by Steven Carpenter below, the expressive versatility of river art is revealed. This begs the question; what spirit do you hope your river art will capture?


Baggetta, River Art
Marla Baggetta | Rhythm of Color | Reproduction | See it here

Of course, different colors can summon different feelings. This will vary viewer to viewer, yet one thing remains constant – reaction and feeling. Like the ups and downs in life, a river will look different to different people at different times in a single day.


Steven Carpenter | Blue River | River Art
Steven Carpenter | Blue River | Limited Edition | See it here

Amid this constant change, consistency yet emerges. The river moves from north to south (the Nile as an exception) and from high to low. While this is subjective, many would argue rivers tell the viewer to release and let go – to accept change as it comes and to go with the flow. The constants of life, after all, will sort through the chaos to bring about a relatively predictable outcome despite many twists and turns.

With Blue River, we come back to the central thought of color. How does the Carpenter above make you feel? Is it vastly different than the Gams? Can you smell rain in the air or feel the breeze whistling through the tall grass? As the river is imbued with the spirit of its surrounding colors, a story that’s native and personal to the viewer is told.


Ryan Franklin | River’s Edge | Reproduction | See it here


In Ryan Franklin’s River’s Edge, the river and land play a dual role. This piece may summon optimistic feelings given its lively colors and amber aura. The openness of the landscape implies space to move about, which the viewer might interpret as opportunity or potential. Again, the river takes on the attributes of its surroundings to tell a story perfectly separate from all other stories. The story is for this moment, for this break in the clouds, for this exact lighting and nothing less or more.


Diane Romanello | Autumn Palette | Reproduction | See it here


Generation after generation, rivers are an unbroken presence in the human experience like the changing seasons. In this piece, Diane Romanello captures the vibrancy of fall and the reflectivity of a slow moving river.


Donna Levinstone | Autumn Reflection | Reproduction | See it here


In Autumn Reflection by Donna Levinstone, the title and the imagery together tell a story of transition. This is fitting, as Levinstone is also a Still Life artist, which is part of our Wings Suite: Empowering Health Challenged Artists. The familiar autumn colors you would expect to see in the trees are more present in the sky above. One gets a sense of changes to come while finding inspiration in the warming color scheme.


Steve Brumbaugh | Menomonee River | Original


This watercolor river art piece was painted by Art Force’s own, Steve Brumbaugh. Steve is an art consultant and artist with a keen take on the natural beauty of Minnesota. There is something poetic about waterscapes painted by watercolor that adds another dimension of meaning to the experience. If you are looking for river art that is nearer to an authentic exchange with nature, watercolor is a strong choice.


Abstract River Art

Stephen Ehret | Light on Water II | Reproduction | See it here

As we move into abstract river art, Stephen Ehret gives us a candid look at rippling. This can be viewed as simply as a natural event or as a metaphor for interconnectedness, energy exchange or something down that line of thought.

Jan Wagstaff | Journey East | Reproduction | See it here


This piece by Wagstaff leaves more for interpretation. The title Journey East clearly implies movement. The fluidity of motion also implies water might be involved. This abstraction will leave the viewer wondering, “East from where to where? To what end?” Dispelling their concerns, the calming blue-green color scheme assures the viewer that wherever it’s heading, it’s something to desire.


Mary Axelson | Swirling Wave II | Original


In Swirling Wave II by Mary Axelson, we are left to our own devices. Again, the name implies fluidity. However, without knowing the name, this painting might look like different things to different people. This is the central mission of abstract art – to leave things uncertain for the viewer to determine.


River Art Photography

Jerry Wiese | St. Croix River Island in Fall | Reproduction | See it here


River art photography generally represents the perfect culmination of talent, patience, location and timing. See how Jerry Wiese was on-site for the exact moment this island was aglow over a still body of water. For anyone who has spent time photographing nature, sometimes moments like this last just a matter of minutes if not seconds. The contrast of the changing seasons with the waning of the day’s light tells a story of transition and transformation.


John Heino | Hraunfossar | Reproduction | See it here

In this piece by John Heino, we are reminded of the ruggedness of nature. The contrast of the softness of water between the hardness of stone tells a story of persistence. Since we all know water ultimately wins the battle of the elements to carve out natural wonders as great as the Grand Canyon, perhaps one of the many lessons of this piece is patience and perseverance.


John Heino | Water Light and Power | Reproduction | See it here


In another piece, Heino reminds us of the raw power of water. As one of the awesome elements of nature, water has the power to create and destroy. As the river mist meets the rays of light between the trees, we are transported to the moment and can almost smell the dew.


John Heino | First Sunset of April | Reproduction | See it here

Mirror, mirror… In this third piece by Heino, the sky has an admirer.


Jerry Wiese | Fairy Falls, Still Water | Reproduction | See it here

Rivers cross all boundaries. They represent our shared responsibility in an interconnected world. This is part of their impact and timeless legacy. Where property lines end, a river runs through. In the end, rivers quite literally are the lifeblood of the Earth and a reminder that the only constant in life is change.

When they rejoin the ocean or evaporate back into the water cycle, they repeat the cycle of oneness to create a singular blue dot in the vastness of space. It’s through this experience that we find connectedness and oneness through river art.

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