by Jane Durrell
Atmosphere at Miller Gallery is a pleasurable show, hung so that the works feed off each other in interesting ways.
The chosen subject matter is a jumping-off point to present artists moving in both original and time-tested ways, admittedly some more successfully than others.
Karen Hollingsworth’s “Lake Effect,” hung in the gallery’s front window, might well have been the inspiration for the show, invoking ageless happy thoughts of summer, idle hours, perfect weather. The “atmosphere” lies in the sweep of wind-blown sheer curtain in the right half of the horizontal work, suggesting mysteries and surprises the literal depiction of the lake view doesn’t bring up on its own.
Coming into the gallery, the first painting encountered is a small depiction of a tree by Adam J. Hayward, whose trees are a variety of his own devising. There’s more from him in the second gallery but this work, here, suggests that the viewer should keep alert. Next, Stephen Bach’s landscapes/skyscapes read as increasingly impressionistic leading into Ober-Rae Starr Livingstone’s abstract breaking down of the same subject matter. I think each set of paintings is stronger in conjunction with the other.
On the other side of the first gallery, eight works by Matthew Metzger appear to have sucked out the “atmosphere” of Tom Bluemlein’s two more conventional paintings hung nearby – late afternoon Mt. Adams on a day of clouds and sun – for the sheer enjoyment of seeing what he can do with it. Grays prevail, reminding in case we’ve forgotten that gray has endless variations, although the largest (66 inches x 49 inches) glows pink in some areas. A tiny horizon line can be found, low in each painting, and a small suggestion of a sun is in some. Luminosity has not had so much attention since the Hudson River School and Metzger makes his clouds and skies into a demonstration of the interaction of positive and negative space. Contrast in size is part of the interest here; the three smallest works are square or nearly so and measure only a few inches to a side. Imposed limits in the right hands can be rewarding.
A short corridor leads into the second gallery, utilized here for a photographer and a painter each obsessed with black. The photographer, Tyler Shields, has produced a digital chromogenic print of massive scale (40 inches x 60 inches), its dark background surrounding a woman seen from the side and rear, her dark hair tousled, her bare back set off by drops of water. It’s classic 19th c. depiction of a lovely model but the means of depiction is a camera and the use of black is not 19th century at all. Shields, a California photographer, enjoys excess.
The painter whose work is in the corridor is Hollingworth, whose “Lake Effect” hangs in the gallery window. Here, in what I believe are earlier works, she is in a wholly different and to me more interesting mood. The background of each of the five paintings is black, unequivocally. The subject matter is mostly paper bags and small birds, endlessly interesting to the artist and in her hands to this viewer. The bags are intricately lighted, the birds appear small, delicate, and precise. One of these paintings is much larger than the others and in it we find a chair, books, one bird perched on a mailing tube, another in the air. The strangeness of the subject matter is countered by its explicate presentation.
Another photographer moving into terrain traditionally that of painters is Christy Lee Rogers, whose “Reckless Unbound” hangs at the entry to the second gallery. It is intricate and accomplished and if you like Baroque paintings you will also like this. We pick up on Adam J. Hayward again in this gallery, with larger works, landscapes of seamed rocks and clouds that echo the shapes of his stylized trees. His is a personal view of an alternate land.
The walls are crowded in this second gallery, but it’s still possible to pick out interactions or contrasts. Pam Folsom’s paintings appear to be realistic landscapes with high horizons and water – lakes or ponds or sea – in the foreground but it’s clear that what she really is interested in is the water, put in place with a palette knife. David Michael Beck, on the other hand, uses a low horizon line and lavishes attention on the sky.
The more traditional works are in this second gallery. Thalia Stratton’s two paintings show us elegant places to eat, probably European, but at the moment of portrayal both un-peopled and without food on their white-draped tables. Hugh O’Neill carries on a style of the last century in “Children’s Day at the Beach” and Ellen Diamond is another traditionalist with her villas on hillsides.
There are too many artists to mention all here, but Atmosphere is a show designed to please. Challenge is another matter and,with an exception or two, not at all what this exhibition is about. Metzger’s work rewards attention, as does an eye-catching, very large and very colorful landscape by Pang Jen. The latter is an object lesson in what can happen when Chinese tradition mixes with the European avant garde of some decades ago. The China-born artist is now 90 and still painting. Atmosphere runs through April 26.