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John Lamb, Published March 13 2014

Art on the 'Horizon': Fargo glass blower, painter share vision of landscape

MOORHEAD - With their “balded beardedness” – as Jon Offutt refers to their look – and intense glares, it’s no surprise Warren Kessler has been told he looks like Offutt.

The pair doesn’t just look alike, they look at the landscape alike, even if they capture it in different mediums.

Offutt, a glass blower, and Kessler, a painter, teamed up for the show “Prairie Horizons,” which opens Friday at the Rourke Art Museum.

The two had never paired up for a show, and with the exception of the annual Eighth Street Show and Uptown Gallery, where they both display, have never been in the same exhibit.

Still, they admired each other’s work and had promised for years to work together.

“I was drawn to his subject matter and properties, that strong horizon line in his work,” Offutt says of Kessler’s oil paintings.

The show is actually less a collaboration than a response to each other’s art.

Offutt gave Kessler some glass vessels to look at in his studio and Kessler returned the favor, giving Offutt small paintings to place in his workshop.

The landscape – particularly the horizon – was a natural point of interest for the Fargo artists.

“That’s what we see when we look out,” says Kessler.

Offutt concurs. “It’s not like Washington with the mountains or Duluth. Those places with their damned topography.”

They seem to share a similar color palette, tying in the same sky blues that lighten up just before the horizon and earthy greens.

They even share an affinity for the “w” word: Winter. Both find a quiet beauty in the bitter cold.

“I am very enamored with the stark, graphic compositions, and no place is better than winter to get that,” Offutt says, adding that he loves Kessler’s winter paintings.

“I’m kind of sad we won’t get to paint winter scenes anymore,” Kessler says, referring to the spring weather. “There are so many colors out there when you look around.”

“It’s the subtle nuance of the prairie. It’s for prairie people,” Offutt says.

But Offutt doesn’t think that even prairie people will buy winter scenes on glass, as he’s found sales of snowy pieces a tough sell in the past. Kessler, however, has had success moving icy images.

While Kessler goes into the field to paint – even in early February – Offutt can’t get too far away from the furnaces that keep his glass hot and pliable. He creates scenery on vessels by fusing together layers of glass, some with shapes and forms, like a tree line or clouds, already laid out.

He describes his images as “cartoony” for their hard edges.

“They’re not nearly the nuances Warren has,” he says.

“I don’t know if I like ‘cartoony,’ ” Kessler counters, praising Offutt’s work for layers of depth. He later describes Offutt’s glass painting as “impressionistic,” particularly for his depiction of clouds.

“I’m excited to see how it flows together with that strong horizon line around the room,” Offutt says. “I’m hoping it’s a very placid, quiet show to walk into. My work has always fought with large nudes, geometric prints and shiny metal frames.”

The works will be displayed at about the same level. While Offutt’s vessels range in shape and size, he didn’t want to “overwhelm” Kessler’s small paintings.

He says most museums and galleries improperly display his work. Instead of placing them on waist-high pedestals, the pieces should be at eye level to truly take in that horizon line.

As a 3-D artist, he’s used to being exhibited in the round, allowing visitors to walk around the work, but for this show Offutt built 7-inch wall-mounted shelves to hold the art.

“This gives me a chance to turn the part I don’t like to the wall,” he says with a laugh.

If You Go

WHAT: “Prairie Horizons” opening reception

WHEN: 5:30-7 Friday

where: Rourke Art Museum, 521 Main Ave., Moorhead

tickets: The reception is $3 for non-members, free to members. (218) 236-8861

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533