PAUL WOLVEN at the Greenwich House Gallery

by Kevin Ott

Dawn or dusk, abstract or realist, defined and indefinite: Paul Wolven’s oil paintings are worth seeing, their blurry edges and mood evoking palette urging the viewer to resolve these diverse directions.

Wolven is a Cincinnati painter and his scenes are Cincinnati scenes. But, often, the viewer needs the title to place the scene within Cincinnati. Street scenes are hazy, the buildings impressionistically rendered, many not readily recognizable. And cars—nearly all his paintings in the show depict cars—are central to the composition. You do not have to be a Cincinnatian to appreciate these paintings and they are unlikely to appear in a Chamber of Commerce brochure.

Colors are often muted in Wolven’s paintings. The largest painting in the show, “Early Shift”, at 30” x 40”, depicts darkened cars rolling down an indistinguishable avenue at dawn, the sky just lightening, the background of buildings and trees shadowy planes of grayed blues and greens. The brushstrokes are loose, the paint not thick so as to better capture the haziness of the time of day; the one bolt of color, the cars red tail lights. Often with these paintings, this is the case: the stop lights or car lights are the bright point of light amidst the dusky color. The paintings seem to reference vintage cityscape photography: the cars, the soft edged buildings, the gray-tone, all nostalgic, like a soulful old black and white picture.

“Early Shift” Paul Wolven 30″ x 40″

The viewer is tugged in two directions. On the one hand the paintings are warm and friendly. Yet, on the other, they seem to evoke a certain moodiness and isolation. Only two paintings depict figures, and these are darkened silhouettes, crossing the streets. People are in their cars, on their way to work, their car’s head or tail lights providing the only jolt of vivid color. Everyone is on their way somewhere, to work it seems, alone in cars, passing through the Cincinnati streets, the recognizable architecture made hazy through the years of routine. Edward Hopper’s paintings, although brighter in palette, mined the same feelings of isolation in a different era.

Some of the paintings work better than others. “Procter and Gamble Headquarters” did not work as well for me as some of the smaller paintings, such as “Woman Crossing Vine” with it’s surprising DeStael like chunk of ochre. Or the three paintings “Eighth Street”, “Ninth Street” and “Main Street”, all blurred out buildings looming over the streets with their darkened cars and lit headlights.

The gallery should have given the paintings more space. Wolven’s paintings are crowded into half of a small room, sharing space with Gayle Gillette Hummel’s brightly painted oils. It makes for an interesting contrast in styles, but it is too much in one small room. Wolven’s paintings should have filled the entire room, letting the space set them apart to their advantage.

Kevin Ott


One Response

  1. I just purchased I71 North from Greenwich Gallery and it is abolutely spectacular in my home. I loved it in the gallery but it came to life in my home with grey walls as a background.

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