The Greenwich House Gallery’s current show, DUO, features new work by two prominent Cincinnati artists—Tom Towhey and Greg Storer.

Tom Towhey’s paintings have been described as surreal fantasies—fairy tales conjuring thoughts of Alice in Wonderland. Towhey often fills his canvases edge to edge with layers of detail. It is this layering, or the creation of “subtexts” as he has said, that makes his work so interesting to look at. Some of his favorite subjects have included teapots, elves and clowns, shoes. He says that he is interested in the psychological effects of color and shapes.

What is striking about the work in DUO is that he serves up vast, lush skies in new large-scale landscapes. With so much open space, the landscapes at first don’t appear to be Towhey’s work at all. They look more like the work of eighteenth-century French painters. However, you quickly see that they are completely consistent with Towhey’s style. These are his trees—the skies are as rich and full of depth as any of his earlier paintings.

In What Not Where, the large moss-covered tree in the foreground, with its bulbous trunk and gnarly branches, becomes a character in the work. Towhey seems to really play with the overall shapes of the trees in these works. He loves to tuck little secrets into his paintings. In What Not Where you see a peculiarly shaped hole in the foliage at the top of the tree. Is it a giraffe? The trees that recede into the distance, is that one a dancing bear? The other, is it a chicken? This tool in the hands of many artists could go terribly wrong. But Towhey has such masterful technical skill that it makes looking at his work a real adventure. He doesn’t go out of his way to create these little surprises. They are created as the work is created.

In The Office Towhey paints a wooded path edged with large pudgy boulders. Unframed, he paints all around the edges of the canvas—another Towhey hallmark. The path pulls the viewer in and as it meets the horizon; you’re pulled up into a bright cotton candy sky that fades from pink and purple to white and blue. This is where the pieces come together. All of Towhey’s work seems to be drawn from a mythology of some kind, one created by the artist. Maybe it’s always expanding, or maybe he’s familiar with its boundaries. Either way, it’s a path like this that leads the viewer to think, “This is the path you take to get to The Mystery of Trees,” which is another work in the show. You don’t feel like you’re an outsider looking in, you feel like you’re standing in the forest.

This idea of mythology is reinforced by some of the titles of the works, such as Bennafeeties Little Revival Circus, We Sail Tonight This Morning, Sunset at the Pond and Turners Trapeze. Volumes could easily be written around Towhey’s life’s work. Another painting in the show, In Memory of Brian, stands out with its mystical style—reminiscent of William Blake. This work pays homage to beloved Cincinnati-painter Brian Joiner, who passed away in October.

The paintings by the second artist in DUO, Greg Storer, couldn’t be more different stylistically. In his paintings, largely of houses, he seems to focus on angles, edges and light. The house has become an icon in Storer’s work. Some of his newer paintings in DUO, however, mark a bit of a shift. Storer uses a palette knife to apply sharp smears of paint as opposed to the softer brushwork of his older work. It is interesting to see the two styles side by side. In both, the viewer is left thinking, “Who lives here? Is it a family? Are they happy?” With the current state of the housing market we may be compelled to ask whether anyone lives there at all. The quiet nature of the work creates some interesting tensions. It has an inner-life, mirrored by the stylistic differences of Storer’s varied techniques. The use of the palette knife really agitates the surface, so that the look of the otherwise quiet scene seems to shake—a visible representation of that tension. Perhaps he is making a statement on the dissolution of the house as a symbol of the American dream.

These two artists have a long Cincinnati history, and it’s interesting to see them in one show. The Greenwich House Gallery includes a quote by Hans Hoffman on the DUO postcard that talks about art and its creation. It says, “Art is magic.” Hoffman goes on to say that art’s creation must be magic for the outcomes to be magical. He says we cannot, “worship the product and ignore its development.” This is what draws these two artists together. They honor that artistic process and it’s entirely evident when you look at their work.

– Laura A. Partridge

DUO: Tom Towhey and Greg Storer at The Greenwich House Gallery, 2124 Madison Rd (O’Bryonville), Cincinnati, OH. Through December 31, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *