By Jim Sisley
The landscape paintings by Leesburg’s late Jack Lancto may be more accurately described as skyscapes, since the sky is the true subject of the paintings. Lancto found endless fascination with what occurred above the horizon.
“The sky is God’s greatest piece of abstract art” is his most often remembered quote about his muse. Just like in nature, his skies are never the same, infinitely deep and moody with deftly painted light effects that are rarely produced in the new millennium.
Much like Thomas Hart Benton, Lancto’s composition positions the horizon low in the frame, reserving most of the canvas space for the upper atmosphere. His sky imagery ranges from the uninterrupted blue of a clear summer day to the limitless variations of blue, green and gray that form the canopy of a rainy afternoon. Lancto painted muscular clouds in the east reflecting that “magic” orange light shown by our star as it races toward the western end of day.
Lancto credited Turner and Constable as his influences, and you can see that he convincingly mimics their massive scale without resorting to the use of large canvases. He was able to create “big paintings” in relatively small spaces, and the effect is captivating in a way that makes you want to get closer. But the viewer finds themselves at some great separation from the farm buildings, trees, fence posts and steel blue hills in the distance. The effect leaves us wanting to travel for a first-person experience.
Lancto’s reference to God’s abstraction is a nod toward Joseph Mallord William Turner, who he and many others credit as the father of Abstraction. Turner and Constable were the twin pillars of Romanticism in the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. And Lancto’s painting are indeed romantic but with a western sensibility. There are no frolicking Nymphs, dancers or ladies at leisure here. The characters in Lancto’s paintings are masculine, built structures framed by barbed wire stretched along rows of sturdy posts and juxtaposed against soft swirling mists, rain and billowing clouds. The effect of straight lines shown against the soft cloud edges form the visual interest in his work.
However, it is Jack Lancto’s mastery of light and shadow that really shines through. He uses his light to focus our attention on the billowing beauty of a pale blue cloud edge outlined with bits of pink and white. Other days, he paints the sky in a matte gray that magnifies a multitude of orange, yellow and brown in the fall landscape below.
Art is a visual medium, and words fall short of providing the full body experience one can feel when in the presence of Lancto’s rare paintings. Rare, because most of his work is in private hands internationally. Lancto showed and sold his work locally and across the mid-Atlantic but his works are not often available to the broader public.
You have the rare opportunity to see Jack Lancto’s skyscapes during his October featured artist exhibit at Tryst Gallery in Leesburg, opening Oct. 4. Join us as we pay tribute to one of Leesburg’s most talented painters.
[Jim Sisley is the owner of the Tryst Gallery, located at 312 E. Market St. Suite F in downtown Leesburg. The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and First Friday 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each month.]