SooVAC explores nature in one of its latest shows


“Terra Incognita,” which translates to “unknown lands” in Latin, features the work of two artists who are thinking about nature in different ways, using abstraction and imagination to create pieces that are in some ways informed by the natural world, but also reaching for something else. The exhibition is opening at Soo Visual Arts Center this weekend. 

For Aaron Squadroni, much of the work he’s presenting finds inspiration from the Birch Lake area, a part of the Kawisishiwi River near Ely, Minnesota. The lake is one of the proposed sites for copper mining, which would continue up the river and to the other lakes as well.

Squadroni employs a method called metal point, using copper. Metal point is a Renaissance-era technique, which typically used silver (called silver point).

“Basically I get a gesso that allows a texture that causes the metal to rub off,” he says. “You could draw with a ring, with a penny, or a copper pipe. I just use copper wire and put it in a lead holder I use for architectural drawings.”

For Squadroni, the series was a way to address environmental issues surrounding copper mining in northern Minnesota.

“To me the way people talk about different areas of land; it’s very objective,” he says. “You are objectifying it.” Discussions revolve around how the land can benefit people, whether they want to canoe through it or take its resources.


“My interest was to dig into the identity of this place, creating more of a narrative,” he says. Through his pieces, he aims to explore the area as a person, rather than an object, linking together history and current issues surrounding the place, as well as possible future directions the land might go. “I’m calling these 'land portraits,'” he says.

Shannon Estlund also finds inspiration from the natural world. She began working on the series she’s showing in “Terra Incognita" in 2013, while still in her masters program at MCAD. 

To create her pieces, Estlund starts with photographs of places that are in nature, but are easily accessible, such as urban and suburban areas. “I’m less interested in grand vistas and more interested in areas on the side of a highway or overgrown driveways that you might pass by often and can easily get into,” she says.

The photograph helps her map out the painting, figuring out where the light and dark areas are. Then, she infuses the painting with her imagination, emphasizing something specific about the subject. “I don’t use the same technique every time,” she say. “I like to have the place dictate the way the paint is applied.”

"Terra Incognita" runs in tandem with another show, featuring work by Joel Jannetto and Jesse Ruiz. Contrasting the peaceful nature-inspired artwork of “Terra Incognito,” “Hovering in the Void” is a spasmodic explosion of color and energy.


Terra Incognita: Shannon Estlund and Aaron Squadroni

August 8 through September 5

The opening reception is Saturday, August 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.