Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Lucy Dodd - Painting as a Poetics of Earth, Water, Air

Nothing here but an excerpt and a link to uber-critic Jerry Saltz's review of Lucy Dodd's 2013 show Cake4Catfish at David Lewis Gallery (NYC) along with some images of subsequent work. He says it better than anyone else I've read, so I'll just post this nugget from a NYTimes review to get you to keep reading:

Lucy Dodd's paintings' "amber depths and jet-black clouds are achieved not with conventional paint but with flower essences, Tetley tea, cuttlefish ink, and yew berries among other substances. With titles like "the Flight of Aunt Goose" and "Slowly Snail ... Time is Creation's Bubble," the artist seems to invite viewers to read her radiant works like Rorschach tests for pagan rites."

Two Doors, one Tomb - Coming Through the Back Side of Death, entrance to  Dodd's 2013 show.

These works are cosmic in scope and humbly, elementally of the earth - and playful! - all at once.

Saltz nails and unpacks it perfectly with a piece that doubles as a mini-history of a vital branch of contemporary art and a fun read to boot.

Dodd's 2018 show May Flower at David Lewis, with Prince Porcupine on the right.
Detail of Prince Porcupine Cuttlefish ink, black lichen, hematite, Tetley tea, tulip flower extract, yew berries, wild walnut, and pigments on canvas, 45 3/4 x 59 1/2 inches.

Two Doors, One Tomb - Coming Through the Back Side of Death (left)

AKA Butterfly

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Poetic Landscape: Douglas Fryer

Douglas Fryer paints pensive contemporary realist landscapes inspired by the agricultural valley where he lives with his family in Utah. His work avoids the formulaic by drawing not only upon what he actually sees but also upon strong underlying abstract design as well as what he thinks and feels about the land and the people who live and work on it.

Nearly all of his paintings balance hard-edged ("hand-hewn" might be a better word) marks and lush, atmospheric passages. 

He uses photo references when he paints, but seemingly only to supply a basic armature which he modifies in the design phase and ultimately abandons to allow the painting to emerge on its own terms. He builds up his surfaces with layers of loose, diluted paint alternating with thicker, later-stage impasto passages (very often found in his expansive foregrounds) often applied with a large putty knife or hand scraper. The paintings display significant contrast, between light and dark, soft and hard edges, atmosphere and texture, neutrals and chroma.

Although he claims he's mostly interested in abstract design, content is clearly important to him as well. He isn't interested in making "pretty pictures," he says, which he defines as paintings that are beautiful because they're of beautiful things or paintings with only sentimental value. In place of the obligatory sun- or shadow-washed barn, he gets something of the reality of rural life into his pictures. It's as if his work is a way of entering into a conversation with time, mindful of the generations past and present who've farmed America's isolating plains and valleys.

"What I strive for in painting," he says, "is what I suppose a poet strives for in the arrangement of words. My role is to arrange elements in ways that inspire contemplation and healing. I hope my work is a concrete statement about my sense of beauty and meaning."

How does he accomplish this? He evidently has a feel for the rough-edged rural life of farming families and ranchers and translates that into his paintings through stark contrasts, an earthy palette, and deliberately rough paint handling - he untethers conventionally separate elements, like foreground features and shadows or the branches and foliage of trees against the sky, rendering them as literally rough-edged forms.

Yet, I'd say his paintings aren't really about "place" so much as they're an intuition about a certain relationship between humans and the natural world.

The elements of civilization, nearly always present, often blur into elements of the landscape such as trees or grass, sky or snow. They're usually ramshackle, possibly abandoned yet persistent in their presence, both merging into and at odds with their surroundings.

As a result, his paintings gain emotional energy from what he puts into them via color (an earthy, limited palette high on contrast and soaked in atmosphere), paint handling (loose, scratchy rendering that channels the grittiness of the scenes themselves), and composition (his narrow formats and wide, abstractly designed foregrounds suggest a beautiful barrenness, and his barns and ranches, with their sometimes meagre, yet tenacious presence, often seem like ramshackle matchbox settlements in a land indifferent if not hostile to them).

And yet, all the “actors” in his paintings, whether it’s buildings, trees, mountains, busted fences or domesticated animals, hold each other in a precarious interrelationship; he doesn't paint "humanity in harmony with nature," nor does he paint humanity humbled by the sublime or the impersonal forces of nature - he paints a moment in the wrestling match between them.

A closer look at one of his paintings reveals that his trees, roads, barns, meadows, clouds, silos, grasses, and animals all depart from what the eye's lens alone would register, all with the intent of painting, as he puts it, what the camera can't capture.

There's a schmaltzy gallery video that shows him painting here, and his main gallery, with lots of fairly high res pictures of current work, is here. The below paintings blow up nicely for a closer look if you click on them.

Framed version of the above. Nice (connected) darks.

Finally, for more images and a deeper dive into how Fryer works - his palette, design approach, working methods, and color theory (hint: as in  our last artist, Corot, the foundation is values over colors, with healthy doses of the wonderful neutrals in nature), visit this link to an interview here.

To hear a podcast in which Laura Cassinari King interviews me on my thoughts about Fryer, visit the "Artists of New England" website and click the podcast link right here: artistsofnewengland.com.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Corot again

Camille Corot (1796-1875), French

Souvenir of a Visit to Coubron, 1873

Excerpts from "Corot" by Elbert Hubbard. Images copyright National Gallery UK ;-)

"The pale silvery tones of Corot, the shadowy boundaries that separate the visible from the invisible ... Before a Corot you would better give way, and let its beauty caress your soul. His colors are thin and very simple—there is no challenge in his work as there is in the work of Turner. Greens and grays predominate, and the plain drab tones are blithe, airy, gracious ..."

"Corot coquettes with color—with pale lilac, silver gray, and diaphanous green. He poetizes everything he touches—quiet ponds, clumps of bushes, white-washed cottages, simple swards, yellow cows, blowsy peasants, woodland openings, stretching meadows and winding streams—they are all full of divine suggestion and joyous expectancy."

"Something is just going to happen—somebody is coming, someone we love—you can almost detect a faint perfume, long remembered, never to be forgotten. A Corot is a tryst with all that you most admire and love best—it speaks of youth, joyous, hopeful, expectant youth."

Closeup on Corot's foliage, how it grays out against the sky - click for high res.

Like Cezanne, he covered his whole canvas as soon as possible and worked on all parts of the painting at once, "improving it very gently until I find that the effect is complete."

If there's any other "secret" to how he worked, it's that he saw and painted primarily in values rather than in colors. "That which I look for while I paint is the form, the harmony, the value of the tones," he wrote. "Color comes afterwards for me because above all I like the harmony in the tones."

By Tones - I take him to mean the infinite gradations of midtone light and shadow.

All of this helps to lend Corot's paintings their marvelous unity of effect - what many have called their "poetry" - the way, wordlessly and all at once, they convey such feeling.

Corot often used cobalt blue in the sky and in the greyish mauve of his middle distancesHis mid-green foregrounds are created from blue and yellow, made up of a transparent yellow (possibly chrome) and a fine blue (possibly Prussian blue) mixture with white, red and black in small amounts.

It’s the admixture of white, red, and blackto his green mixture that creates the subtle, neutralized modulations of tone(value) that make Corot Corot. Between the complementary red and the black, that green is well on its way to a neutral hue, and the white just levels the value as well. 

Creating a similar mauve mixture for the background and taking these as the painting’s predominant limited hues, one is left free to control the painting's overall values, modulating these with just the slightest variations in the various proportions of light and dark paint.