Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Complements to the artists

Kehler Liddell Gallery
873 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 389-9555
Scene/Seen: Photography by Rod Cook & Paintings by William McCarthy
Through Sept. 27, 2009

The Kehler Liddell Gallery often shows pairings of artists whose work, on first glance, seems quite different. But on closer inspection, there is often some point or points of complementarity that make these shows work. Such is the case with Scene/Seen, an exhibit of paintings by William McCarthy and photographs by Rod Cook. The imagery seems bathed in mists as though each photograph or painting is a hazily recalled memory.

McCarthy is an abstract painter masquerading as a landscape artist, or vice versa. His landscapes flow from a combination of memories, imagination and thumbnail sketches. He works his paint in layers, attentive more to the emotional detail of light and color than to pictorial detail. I've often felt there was a certain measure of darkness in McCarthy's paintings. Not in a negative way, more that his color choices tended to a light temperature suggesting the onset of evening tinged with melancholia. The previous works of his that I've seen were notable for their stands of slim, upright trees—vertical forms contrasting with the horizontal imagery of foreground, horizon and background.

But McCarthy's distinctive trees really appear in only two of these paintings. These works are different in a couple of ways: the general absence of the trees and the brightness of his colors. These are mostly views of wetlands, marshes seen in a gauzy sunlight. Even in a painting entitled "Evening Light," the sky is a roiling disturbance of pastel blue, yellow, green and gold. "Summer Wind," "All the Changes" and "Distant Thunder" trend strongly toward formalist abstraction, the notion of landscape just hinted at through an accumulation of horizontal applications of differing colors at the bottom of the canvas. Where his paintings in the past—those I'm familiar with, at least—suggested coolness, these works radiate luminous warmth.

Luminosity is also a characteristic of Rod Cook's photography. There are a lot of shadows in his prints, a mix of what he calls "botanicals" (flower, plant and fungi photos) and "moving landscapes." Despite the fact that these images are drenched in shadow, they gain their luminosity from Cook's use of platinum/palladium printing paper. Platinum/palladium prints have a warmth to them and that softness of tonal image plays well with Cook's photographic method.

With the "moving landscapes" all the shots were taken from a moving vehicle of some kind. That sense of motion imparts an almost charcoal blur to the images. In the case of the "botanicals," Cook moves in close to his subject, whether it's a mushroom, tulip or a thistle attracting a tiger swallowtail butterfly. With next to no depth of field—he's not using a macro lens—much of the image goes softly out of focus. In a photograph like "FP 57" of a tulip plant, the result looks almost like a perfectly realized graphite drawing. (Cook, who was gallery-sitting when I visited, told me that he does touch up his large contact negatives to emphasize some lines for dramatic effect.) There is an otherworldly beauty to many of these photographs. "FP 27" resembles a scene in outer space, the Big Bang or a distant nebula as photographed by the Hubble telescope.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home