Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Line Between the Abstract and the Figurative, at The Greene Art Gallery

The Boston Post Road through Guilford, Madison, and Clinton, Connecticut is filled with elegant 18th- and 19th-century houses, many with private beaches; the two-mile long Hammonasset State Beach is the best point of public access. But for sightings of marshes and birds, New England houses, and a beautiful village green, you must consider visiting the Guilford Green and walking down the lane to the Greene Art Gallery.  You might know Guilford from the arts and crafts fair, held on the green each summer (this year, its 58th,  July 17-19, 2015).  Whether or not you visit the fair, come and see the works at this gallery, year round; the range and quality of work is exciting to see.

Richard Greene founded the gallery in 1977, and his widow, Kathryn, continues to engage a fine and varied group of artists.  And she is happy to talk about the art on display, or to invite visitors to wander through quietly and take in the artists’ work. The gallery is located in an updated, bright and (recently expanded) barn, and the art spills out to the quiet side lawn with several sculptures that move in the breeze.

Greene has chosen several strong pieces of representational art. One that stays with me, “First Light,” an oil by Connecticut painter Susan Fehlinger, is a small, stunning work, capturing a soft New England morning before the shoreline is awake:

The porch is empty, the sea just visible, and the hints of purple and red set off the overall rich greens beautifully.  And the multiple shades and shadows of yellow and green paints pull the angles of the house into clearer focus and also ... pulls us in.

A west-coast artist,  Matt O’Callaghan, presents photographs that are printed on metallic paper.  All we see, initially, is a clear surfer’s wave:

 But then, we step closer, and we see the reason for the photograph’s title, “South Shack, San Diego.” 

Houses bathed in yellow and white light cling to the Southern California cliffs, palm trees waving overhead: we can SEE these through the curve of the wave.  Yes, it’s a real photograph, the moment of time on camera catching the glimpse in a way the eye can’t quite do.

Further playing with the ways to “re-present,” Clio Newton’s portraits (along with an amazing still life, pewter arranged over shelves) are featured this month in the gallery extension. Her work seems, from a distance, to be photorealist, but as the viewer comes closer to the work, the brushwork is fully evident and the details of the painting lean towards the abstract. Here is a charcoal drawing, “Girl in Chair,” by Newton which might illustrate this combination of a work that is figurative-from-afar, yet, as we study the effects, we can see traces of the artist’s skilled hand:

This is from; available paintings by Newton at the Greene Gallery can be viewed at (and, of course, in person).  Clio Newton is working full-on illusion; is the girl here? Will she step out from the canvas?

Newton’s figures contrast with those painted by another gallery artist, Dolph Lemoult.  His works play more fully on the boundary, leaping between abstract and representational. These portraits are immersed, in context, in a kind of foreground-background dance. The artist (a former ad man) is not trying to give us “real” human faces; he has chosen aspects of “face-ness” to give us.  Here is “American Mezzotint: Bad Girls”:

The women are not coming away from their nightclub stage; they take us, instead, into the painting, onto their stage.  The painting called “Say Goodnight, Gracie” offers a sensual Gracie Allen:

 As you can see from the detail, the lines trail off, into the imagination. He is working that (unsee-able) line between what we know and what we cannot see. My favorite work of his at the gallery is “American Mezzotint: Silence.”

There is something haunting about these figures, and about their very specific enclosure. Is that a city back to the left? Are these Depression-age babies? Is the face in close-up softening into layers of personality and experience? or into paint? as we look... It’s really an extraordinary grouping.  How abstract can a work become before it loses its representational “edge”? 

I think this is a rewarding direction to head into... Go. See. This gallery is a solid presence.

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