On view together for the first time, Aho’s Ice Cut and Mountains series explore the tensions between history, memory, and concepts of beauty through the artist’s luminous depictions of winter. Aho’s fascination with the season and the ephemeral qualities of its two primary elements—snow and ice—has been a central preoccupation of the artist for more than twenty years. Together the series investigate the contrasting extremes between interior and exterior worlds, both psychological and physical—their simultaneous moments of rupture and confluence.
The Ice Cut series takes avantos as their subject matter. An avanto is a traditional Finnish hole cut into the surface of a frozen lake, through which one is meant to plunge after the intense heat of a sauna. The artist himself has been cutting avantos and then painting their dark recesses and uneven, iridescent contours each winter for the past decade.
These large-scale images are also rooted in a personal history. Aho’s indelible impressions of his father recounting days spent harvesting ice as a young boy during the Depression are underscored in the paintings’ parenthetical titles (1929, 1930, etc.). At the same time, these years are meant to coincidentally evoke the Modernist era, when figuration gave way to abstraction, and during which, in the artist’s words, “similar shapes were also becoming liberated from their sources in nature.”
To much acclaim, in early 2016, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth presented an exhibition of the Ice Cut series, offering the unique opportunity to trace the series development over the past decade. Art critic Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe highlighted the show in his year-end review of art exhibitions, praising Aho’s “plunge pools cut out of ice” as “fresh, bold, subtle, and urgent.”
Aho’s fascination with winter terrains is manifested once more in his striking Mountains series, which hovers between abstraction and representation. White expanses of impastoed paint render sweeping peaks of snow and jagged shards of ice, testifying to the monumentality of nature, while reaching upwards and outwards beyond the canvas. As with the Ice Cut series the Mountains operate on two registers— those inflection points that the artists refers to as “the extremes of contrast embodied in open shapes and expanses of white—those strange interstices where naturalism and the unreal cleave to one another.”