prairie landscapes

Greg Hardy. Distant Rain Across the Marsh, 2008. Acrylic on Canvas, 32" x 64"That carving out a little corner of the wilderness in which to live, seen in colliery and garrison towns and which Margaret Atwood's Survival, her thematic examination of Canadian literature, discusses in depth, has never really been how Canadian prairie artists have seen the landscape and their part in it. 
Perhaps this is because settlement of the prairies, much later than that of eastern Canada, was facilitated by the CPR which didn't carve out settlements, but rather overlaid the great plains with the Dominion Survey Grid, charting the land with a system that made everything equal in importance. 
The land, indifferent as ever to ill-prepared settlers, was, by virtue of its abstract delineation, made to seem disinterested in the people living on it.  The relationship between town and land was not precise: the Homestead Act clustered services at the grain elevator and around the railway tracks.  The land was simply the surface upon which such things occurred. 

Compare this Greg Hardy 2008 painting with the 1962 L S Lowry painting, Hillside in Wales.  Lowry is looking at the land and human occupation, Hardy is looking at the weather.  Lowry's horizon is up near the top of the frame, Hardy's is at the bottom.  This is what I mean about the indifference of the land on the prairies to our little struggles: it floods, it dries out, it freezes, it is hailed upon— all these things would happen whether we were there or not.  Yet the mindset of the early immigrants to the Canadian west had developed in the impacted landscapes of Britain, where centuries of manipulation of the landscape had occurred.  One is constantly driving over surprising hills that turn out to be fragments of Hadrian's Wall or some such thousand year old installation.  People and their activities, their material culture, their animal husbandry, their system of fields, crops, stone walls and complex hedgerow cultivation – all that was irrelevant here.  Wind-scoured fields hundreds of acres square was how the prairies were farmed, and how they are still painted.