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Judith Brandon's stormy landscapes broadcast the fear and wonder nature evokes.

Our planet is a universe of good material for Judith Brandon. She turns her admiration for the natural world into expressive canvases rich with texture, light and darkness. The power of her approach is obvious in works such as Yellow #5 Afterglow, where volcanic explosions climb the canvas to form clouds of sunlit charcoal smoke.

"Every time I think I have the abstract landscape weirdness mastered, Mother Nature totally trumps me," Brandon says. "You can't make something up that's more bizarre or awe-inspiring."

People respond to this type of reality check, too. In a piece titled Ash, Brandon captured the details of volcanic ash fallout using layers of charcoal. Three weeks after the piece was unveiled, the Haiti earthquake struck, and Brandon says people began to back away from that artwork, as if it were a bit too close to home.

Nature is powerful like that, which Brandon reminds herself of whenever she takes to the canvas — and these days, she's literally expanding the horizon on which she works. Yellow #5 Afterglow is 42 by 60 inches. "I'm a small person, so anything over 4 feet is big to me," she jokes.

More space gives Brandon what she calls a frightening freedom to make her "creative voice a little stronger." Working large is a challenge, she says. And so is capturing the sadness and technical detail of weather.

"I have storm fears," Brandon admits. "I'm down with the family dog when the rain starts and the wind picks up."

Her earlier landscape pieces explore water, rain, mist, oceans, tsunamis and the like. But lately, she has been tinkering with her new body of work, which showcases smoky images and "more luminosity" in her technique.

Brandon's work can be seen at 78th Street Studios' Third Friday events, and her piece titled Ireland will be on display at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown beginning January 2011.

"I really enjoy exploring what's happening with the world," Brandon says. "I feel like it's a minor way of reporting and reminding people."

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