'Cloudless Day'

"Cloudless Day," 2014 acrylic house paint and dirt on canvas by Ruben Ochoa (Ruben Ochoa / May 8, 2014)

Martha Stewart's interior house paints have pretty names — Cloudless Sky, Morning Fog, etc. — ironically evoking nature while at the same time hiding that same nature outside the walls of an unnatural construction, a house.

Los Angeles-based artist Ruben Ochoa decided that such titles would make perfect backdrops for his landscape paintings. Ochoa's landscapes are not representational vistas but stripped-down, minimalist mixed-media creations of house paint applied with a broom against a sand-gravel combination used in cement making.

"She tries to evoke the senses, feelings with her paints ... It's her morning-to-night narrative. ... I try to evoke senses, capture moments" Ochoa, 39, said. "I keep on stripping it down and down.''

"I abstract it from the built environment. There are elements of our shelter, but they are not really there," he said. "I strip down to reference those things without showing them." He refers to this as "a construction worker aesthetic," deconstructed.

An exhibit of three landscape paintings by Ochoa is on the walls now in the MATRIX gallery at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford. His is the second in a series of four MATRIX artists from Los Angeles: Alison Schulnik, Ochoa, Frohawk Two Feathers (opening Oct. 2) and Michael McMillen (opening next year).

Ochoa — a graduate of Otis College and University of California at Irvine — is best known for his sculpture but started revisiting painting last year.

The title piece, "Cloudless Sky," shows a half-circle of brilliant cerulean over a swoosh of sand-and-gravel. "Morning Fog" is a huge canvas of ever-so-slightly off-white with a thin line of dirt, the paint applied vertically to evoke descending fog. The exhibit's most complex piece, the triptych "Darkening Sky," features three graduated colors of blue.

Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art, called Ochoa's work "an interesting fusion of painting and sculpture, the gravel adding a three dimensionality, the texture of the paint adding depth, and the 3-inch-deep stretcher bars bringing a sculptural quality to them as objects more than flat paintings."

"RUBEN OCHOA / MATRIX 169" will be at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St. in Hartford, until Sept. 7; www.thewadsworth.org.