From the swamps of Louisiana to the cliffs of New Mexico, Kathy (Katalin) Gergo’s landscapes capture the essence of “Transition,” her exhibition at the Academy Gallery at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, 5256 Magazine St.

The exhibition of more than 20 canvases of varying sizes showcases nature in change: slumping river banks along a Mississippi creek, Louisiana cypress trees with decaying bases and cliffs eroding in the New Mexican desert.

The muted colors of the acrylics express the “dark uncertainty” that Gergo said pervaded her works as she prepared for this exhibition for the past two years.

“As I looked around, I saw the world changing, crumbling, becoming something different and amazingly new,” Gergo said in her artist’s statement. “I’ve never felt ‘old’ before! Suddenly, old age was so close I could touch it.”

A native of Hungary, Gergo came to the United States in 1957 and lived in New Orleans for 45 years. She taught privately for 10 years before joining the faculty at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.

Gergo now lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where she relocated after Hurricane Katrina. Her new home offers easy access to the Natchez Trace and its ancient landscape.

Trips to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico have brought Gergo into contact with a totally different but equally compelling environment, where wind rather than water is the primary erosive force. And visits to Jean Lafitte National Park have made it possible to capture the changes in cypress trees over the seasons.

In the two decades that Gergo taught at the academy, she trained the eye and technique of dozens of artists who credit her in their bios. She worked alongside Auzeklis Ozols, founder of the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.

“Kathy began teaching at the Academy in 1983, and by then, she was already a well-known watercolorist,” he said, noting that she continues the tradition of the “Bayou School” of landscape painters such as Alexander Drysdale with her “intense but romantic observation of nature.”

Several of Gergo’s acrylics are especially arresting. “Remains of Centuries” not only depicts a landscape with leafless or dead trees but also a cluster of tombstones at their feet, gradually blending into the shadows of the forest.

In “A Rare Display,” cypress needles blaze brightly against a muted background on the banks of a dark, still body of water, a sort of last hurrah before winter settles in.

To paraphrase Gergo, the landscapes may be crumbling, but they also become something new. The most celebratory of Gergo’s canvases, “Spring Transition,” expresses the regeneration that occurs to complete the circle of life, death and rebirth. Despite the initial optimism of the work, Gergo isn’t fooled:

“The spring foliage was hiding it all from view. Yet, I knew, the changes kept going on. Not always the same way but constantly; and if I don’t get to see them next time around, others will. ”

R. Stephanie Bruno can be reached at rstephaniebruno @gmail.com.

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