On Nov. 4, the Cleveland art world lost a warm, talented and thoughtful man. Earlier this year, Randall Tiedman had been hospitalized on short notice for a heart operation. Still, his death at age 63 was unexpected.
At gallery openings, it could be hard to associate the soft-voiced, good-humored Tiedman with the paintings that bear his signature. In Tiedman's gray, dust-colored landscapes, factories and stadiums rise above virgin plains even as they strain under their own rust. Black clouds roll over fields and hills more brown than green.
Hasty critics read into the pieces warnings of manmade environmental catastrophe, or even the apocalypse. But for Tiedman, they were romantic expressions of reverence for the sublime as manifested in landscapes. Tiedman's vistas are drawn from his imagination, based on the iron skylines of his manufacturing hometown. Despite the urban setting, he was still able to evoke the beauty of the world under the sky, like the Hudson River School he learned from. His towers, dams, and smokestacks should be interpreted in the same way that hills, streams and clouds are. All are elements of a scene meant to be judged, if only for a moment, solely on the beauty of its lines, shapes and color.
Tiedman was active with the local arts community his entire career; he was a co-founder and past president of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. But the broadest and most enthusiastic attention to his work, especially the landscapes, came only in the last few years. Fittingly, an exhibition of these vistas is showing at 78th Street Studios through this weekend. William Scheele of Kokoon Arts and Hilary Aurand of Suite 200 collaborated on the showcase, Rustbelt (Re)Visions. The two are planning a more comprehensive retrospective of Tiedman's work in January. For now, (Re)Visions offers 30 works from the artist's final and most important four years.
"Night's Speechless Carnival #2" may be the best example of Tiedman's balance of natural and manmade elements. Details of fences and cranes dissolve in the distance. In the foreground, a quarry or eroded pit slopes down off the frame. To the rear left, smokestacks rise off a square plateau. Behind, a half-circle of dust lolls in the air. It doesn't matter whether we interpret it as the rising sun or a white dome; all that matters is that it balances the black-blue sky in the painting's upper right.
"Cold Cock," one of the most abstract pieces, casts a stretch of violet and black factory across the canvas like a ship. A strange mist carries its colors in a stream through the air, underneath vertical lines of blue, white, and sun yellow.
"Saturnalia" most strongly suggests some sort of calamity in Tiedman's imagined city. A sunken coliseum, complete with stadium lights, is filled to the brim with water. It is distinguished from the rectangular water treatment-style pools dotting Tiedman's work by being fed by a natural stream. Though it is flooded, it is calm. A silver sky stretches over water and buildings as still as pure geometry.
Tiedman's visionary landscapes are an innovative achievement within a genre that has not commanded the attention of aesthetic elites since, probably, Impressionism. Moreover, they ennoble the Rust Belt milieu that inspired them. That alone is a legacy worth keeping..