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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005 10:21 am

An unlikely canvas

Cassis, 2004 (detail), oil on wood, 4-by-90 inches (overall)

It’s the darnedest thing: Landscape painter Marina Mangubi paints on two-by-four boards. That’s right, lumber. Her curious miniature panoramic scenes of rural Ohio and Oregon, as well as the French Riviera are on view in the Visual Arts Gallery at the University of Illinois at Springfield — and they are certainly worth a look.

Mangubi, 38, grew up in Moscow in a family of engineers who were collectors of art, even in hard times. Their two-room apartment was filled with Russian and European paintings, and above her bed hung three pastoral watercolors. “To a kid painter growing up in a totalitarian society, they were glimpses of a perfect world the way an 18th-century artist saw it — far from the Communist ideal that I was told to contemplate,” Mangubi says in her artist’s statement. She was influenced at an early age by the Dutch Baroque painters, including Jacob van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema, and the later works of Peter Paul Rubens. Many of them painted on wood, and their emphasis on the horizon line made an impression on young Marina.

Mangubi emigrated to the United States in 1981, when she was 15. Although she studied neuroscience before turning to painting as a career, Mangubi earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan and now teaches painting at Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio. In graduate school she worked on large canvases — four by four feet, typically — and her work was much looser. Now she makes delicate strokes and uses tiny sable brushes to depict marshes and cliffs. The early influence of Dutch and Flemish painters is evident in Mangubi’s sprawling landscapes and luminous oil colors. The eight-foot-long two-by-fours seem to be an ideal medium for the project.

When Mangubi began her Oregon series in 1999, she sat in the back of her pickup truck, carefully sketching the landscapes with a stylus onto copper plates. Back in the studio, she made drypoint prints from the plates, using them as a guide for her paintings. The plates and prints are on view as well.

Last year Mangubi received a fellowship from the Camargo Foundation to paint in Cassis, France, and included in this show are four panoramas from the French Riviera. What one notices about her paintings, particularly those from Cassis, is the beautiful quality of the light and the lovely layered blues and siennas in her palette. Mangubi’s paintings from Oregon and Ohio depict flat landscapes that could be Illinois, except for all of the trees on the horizon.

 Eight Board Feet, a show by Marina Mangubi, runs through Feb. 10 at the UIS Health Sciences Building.

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