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Eric Aho's Wartime-Inspired Abstract Landscapes At NBMAA

An abstract artist traces his father's wartime footsteps in France at NBMAA

In the waning days of World War II, Eric Aho's father and his battalion advanced through France, Belgium and Germany, stopping at about 180 villages on the way. More than a half-century later, Aho, a painter who lives in Saxtons River, Vt., is turning his father's wartime experiences into a series of paintings.

Fifty pieces in the work-in-progress "Continental" series are at New Britain Museum of American Art until Aug. 14, as part of a show of Aho work, "An Unfinished Point in a Vast Surrounding."

To research his series, Aho used his father's wartime mementos, testimony from surviving members of the 133rd Engineer Combat Battalion, Google maps, military historians and a six-week trip to the Champagne region of France to trace the path the men followed.

"My interest as a painter is how the landscape is formed, how we form it and how it forms us," he said.

Aho started painting when he was in France but his style of painting the series changed when he got home. "The paintings I made in France, on site, were too topographical, too much about the actual place, not enough about the interior, psychological experience," Aho said in a phone interview. "I really had to come back home to make them. I needed there to be a distance."

Aho's landscapes have a fleeting feel to them, abstracted impressions of a visitor who doesn't plan to stay long.

"To revisit these places and, in a way, kind of collapse time a little bit, I'm thinking, is something painting is particularly able to do," he said. "I was able to internalize the place and internalize some sensation of a physical presence that was there at another time."

Aho said having the 50 paintings on show — he plans for the series to eventually number around 200 — has changed the way he looks at the works.

"I have learned things about the totality of the works. It's impossible to see any of those paintings as individual paintings any longer. They're a group. That's some kind of parallel to the individual soldier giving up their identity to form the cohesion of the larger group."

AN UNFINISHED POINT IN A VAST SURROUNDING by Eric Aho is at the New Britain Museum of American Art through Aug. 14. nbmaa.org.

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