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Premiere coup

Back Shore, Philip Malicoat, 16″ x 22″, oil on canvas.

Tom Insalaco told me earlier this year to check out Philip Malicoat. His close association with Edwin Dickinson emerges immediately in one glance at his work, in both modes that Dickinson employed: the large, dark and mysterious figures and interiors and the quickly executed, nearly abstract scenes Dickinson described as “first stroke”: premier coup. Back Shore is clearly an example of the latter. From the Provincetown Art Association and Museum:

Philip Cecil Malicoat was a child of farmers with little exposure to the arts, first in Oklahoma, then in Indiana, before coming to Provincetown in 1929 to study with Charles Hawthorne. Malicoat went on to build a life in Provincetown, meeting his wife, the artist Barbara Haven Brown, and together raising two children, Martha and Conrad, both of whom became accomplished artists. Malicoat was active in Provincetown arts community as a member of the Provincetown Art Association and Beachcomber’s Club, a teacher, a painter, and, in 1968, a co-founder of the Fine Arts Work Center.

 

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Brilli’s flat foreshortening

Jessica Brilli, Morning of the Camping Trip, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30″ x 30″

This new painting, from earlier this year, has the amazing quality Jessica Brilli often achieves with her vintage cars. The forms are utterly flat and abstracted, a geometric puzzle, and yet her handling of values makes the trunk of the car jut into view. That effect is supported by the one area of analog gradation from dark to light on the wall of the garage behind the car. The colors viewed individually are flat and muted, almost dull–that blue sky looks lusterless in a disciplined way, but arrange them in relation to one another the way she has and what comes to life is the heat and light and expectant silence of a summer morning, just before a longed-for getaway. The canoe is a wonderful touch, also given a sense of three-dimensional depth with the smooth shift in values along its curve. The whole painting comes alive around those two red tail lights, like a pair of opossum’s eyes, their little U-shaped highlights underneath the crimson irises echoing the slim arch of shine over the rear window. The car looks sentient but fast asleep, eyes wide shut, waiting. The restraint of the subtle hues, and the combination of uncommon tones, the rigor of her reduction of everything to the simplest possible terms, everything works inexplicably to create the aura of an eerie moment both commonplace and alluringly mysterious, everything charged with somnolent but vigilant awareness.

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Paint the elephant

My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a ...

A painter’s impossible challenge, as well as the essence of painting, from The Little Prince.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“The narrator becomes an aircraft pilot, and one day, his plane crashes in the Sahara desert, far from civilization. The narrator has an eight-day supply of water and must fix his aeroplane. Here, he is greeted unexpectedly by a young boy nicknamed “the little prince.” The prince has golden hair, a loveable laugh, and will repeat questions until they are answered.

The prince asks the narrator to draw a sheep. The narrator first shows him the picture of the elephant inside the snake, which, to the narrator’s surprise, the prince interprets correctly. After three failed attempts at drawing a sheep, the frustrated narrator draws a simple crate, claiming the sheep is inside. The prince exclaims that this was exactly the drawing he wanted.”

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Phyllis Bryce Ely

 

Phyllis Bryce Ely, Seneca Lake, Looking South, oil on linen, 12 x 16, 2019.

Phyllis Bryce Ely has been doing en plein air paintings of the nearby Finger Lakes, one of which is on view in Spellbound: The Art of Mystery at Oxford Gallery. I keep coming back to this image she sent me, at my request, a while ago. It’s less abstracted than much of her work, and more reliant on the shape of the brush and the flow of the paint for the cool tension between the accuracy of the paint and what I’m seeing through it. What I love is how loose and yet carefully precise it is. This isn’t really bravura brushwork, it’s more personal than that: it has her touch, the ghostly, translucent gradations between tones. Much of what Ely does is less like what one would actually see standing at a scenic pull-off, more like the Group of Seven or at least Lauren Harris, but Ely’s work is even more about the paint. This one creates a very real and precise sense of a three-dimensional view and yet looks utterly free and spontaneous in the way she applies the paint.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mysterioso

Bonfire Moon, Bridget Bossart van Otterloo, oil and silver leaf on board.

At Oxford Gallery many of the participating artists responded to the theme of the new group show—Spellbound, the Art of Mystery—with compelling work.

When I first walked through the gallery, I passed a welded steel raven from Wayne Williams with a cursory glance at the bird, but then on a second tour of the show, I paused and looked at it from various sides and began to absorb the dignity of the crusty, ruffled creature. It began to remind me just a bit of Donatello’s Lo Zuccone, a prophetic interloper, in from the cold, out of place in polite society, but also just where he ought to be. Titled Nevermore Evermore, it’s ostensibly an homage to Edgar Allen Poe but it’s even more an admiration of the huge bird itself, with its sentient eye, poised and observant, sizing up the entire gallery from his corner. What struck me most deeply was how little Williams consciously imposes himself on the steel he brings alive—his ideas, his opportunity to call attention to his stylistic prowess. He gives you the raven as it is, an intelligent, even playful genetic sibling to the crow, its aggressive shifty cousin. Anyone who knows birds has mixed feelings about the larger corvids. Yet I once worked at a desk beside a woman who kept a pet raven and called herself a “raven maniac” largely because her bird was always playing games with her, enjoying control of air space in her home, pilfering small objects from various rooms and hiding them in the cushions of her couch. Wayne Williams’s raven could easily be a portrait of her bird, a haughty touch of mischief in the eye, with a lack of urgency in the pose suggesting wisdom or at least wise-guy confidence. When I asked why the feathers seem to rise up in relief at the tips, like old roofing shingles, Williams told me this is how a raven’s feathers behave, unlike a crow’s. Williams takes the world as he finds it and gives it back to you in a way that makes you see it afresh and just as it is. This isn’t a Leonard Baskin bird, nor a bird used to campaign against the world as Ted Hughes employed his crow, but an actual bird as mysterious and complete as the world itself, with a title that offers a choice between utter despair and the possibility of hope. It’s a work of deep appreciation and representation, the artist disappearing into what he has created: everywhere present but nowhere visible.

Anthony Dungan’s large abstract acrylic on canvas, Saucerful of Secrets, almost side-by side with the raven, represents a new benchmark in his painting. His best work in the past has been built around abstracted but evocative human figures where the sensuous curves are incorporated in such a way that they take you by surprise when you recognize the silhouette: working as both abstraction and representation. Here representation has been almost abandoned, though the three spheres suggest celestial or planetary visions. Mostly they work to create tension between their exact circumferences and the ruptured, richly colored grid. The riot of brushwork seen through black louvers looks like a distillation and concentration of an upstate autumn but also suggests a psychological or emotional cauldron. You see all that energy trying to burst through, but safely locked behind black bars, both hidden and disclosed.

At first glance, William Keyser’s Inexplicable Lacuna appears to be a joyous pastel homage to a Matissse cut-out or one of Milton Avery’s women assembled with flat, simplified color. Yet it has a mysterious dark black line stamped across the center of the image that seems like a salute to the void of the existentialists. With a little study, you realize the painting isn’t done on canvas and the black line is an opening cut from the sheet metal he used as a support. The cut is like an enormous mail slot, into which you deposit your hopes and dreams, wondering whether they’ll disappear in there or get delivered. It’s one of the most arresting and lovely pieces in the show.

Partners in life, Tom Insalaco and Debra Stewart, paint in distinctly different ways. Yet this time, they have contributed smaller, intensely realized visions that feel familial. Insalaco’s is characteristically dark but this time prismatic, almost sparkling with a cheerful equanimity about the fleeting quality of life. In You Tell Me, he depicts the passage of time, his own face serving as the face of a melting clock—Salvador Dali hovers in an upper corner—everything pointing toward evanescence, tempis fugit. Yet the glittering eyes look as cheerful as the eyes in the Yeats poem. Stewart’s masterful dreamscape shows another cheerful woman, a contemporary Nereid maybe, rising from the ocean, with a miniature alligator perched on her head and a butterfly alighting on the alligator’s snout. Mysteriosa is a blue aquatic reverie, intricate as a jeweled Swiss watch, wonderfully timed for viewing when snow has returned to Western New York.

One of the most popular paintings in the show—several people told me it was their favorite—was an unusual, idiosyncratic vision of a bonfire under a full moon. Bridget Bossart van Otterloo created a simple, nearly symmetrical nightscape that looks as bright as noon. This reversible quality of light in Bonfire Moon (above) alone recommends it as a unique achievement. With only four elements—sky, moon, bare trees and a fire that bisects the painting—she builds an image that has the simplicity and power of a logo or ideogram. From a distance, the way the fire shimmies upward toward the sky, it looks briefly like a river reflecting a sunset—giving the whole scene an inverse appearance, a sun dropping through a haze, lighting up the water. Then you realize it’s night and the water is fire and the moon isn’t the sun. What makes it work is that she’s painting in oil, but using silver leaf on board for the sky. The shine of the silver, the way it shifts in value as you move, provides the perceptual hinge for those two opposing impressions of day and night. What ought to be a slightly spooky scene feels infused with intense, radiant energy. The image pulls you closer to the warmth and life of that fire and the ubiquitous light of a full moon.

You’ll find the most amazing merger between keen observation and a simplified uniformity in mark-making in Todd Chalk’s Mysteries of the Seas.  On one level, it’s a landscape of sky and whitewater where the scene is stacked in roughly assembled, interlocking tiers, like field stones in a wall. The eye descends from the streaks of last light in the sky to the horizon of distant mountains, then to the different levels of the river flowing toward the viewer, swirling down and forward. Or . . . it’s a view of the ocean with swells in the foreground, one wave already broken at your feet and the water being sucked back into the sea for the next swell, while what seemed distant mountains are simply promontories of the storm-pushed water seen from far away. The rough weather is done, but the sea still rocks and rolls. The painting also works, at first glance, as a flat study of cool and warm tones applied in flowing marks and watery fault lines that evoke detail and form without specifying anything, a field of continuous color orchestrated like music. Past the age of 90 now, Todd Chalk is at the peak of her powers.

Susan Miller’s Too Long Unseen appears to be a hummock of nondescript soil in some abandoned field, a scene that only an Albrecht Durer could love, and she conveys with amazing skill the lumpy eroded face of this hump of land one would know how to find only with GPS coordinates. The soil sends off prickly quills of vegetation and over the top of the berm she populates the surface with vegetation that looks almost photographic but is achieved by seeming to rely on the way watercolor resolves into squiggly rivulets thanks to the yupo paper. The drawing has a sepia tone that gives it a patina of deep age consistent with the Renaissance-like aura evoked by her Durer-esque exactitude, and yet when you look closely you see how she has executed the drawing with an gestural assurance and spontaneity akin to classic Chinese or Japanese painting. It’s remarkable.

Nearly everyone contributed equally accomplished and interesting work including Bill Stevens, Bill Santelli (from his series of In the Humming Air paintings), Jean Stephens, Daniel Mosner, Kate Timm, Ray Hassard, Chris Baker, Jim Mott, Sari Gaby, Jack Wolsky, Sharon Gordon, Elizabeth Durant, Susan Miller, Phyllis Bruce Ely, Fran Noonan, Jacquie Germanow, Doug Whitfield, Richard Jenks, Ryan Schroeder (a small piece that does remarkable, eerie things with resin), and Amy McLaren. It’s impossible to do justice to every piece, each of which is worth a long look. It’s a fantastic show.

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The pink cape

Mark Tennant

It’s a lovely candid moment, a young woman pausing to study a Manet at the Metropolitan. It’s one among a series of paintings Mark Tennant has done from what could be a field trip of female students milling through the museum. It seems to eschew his typically prurient or declasse subjects, a departure for Tennant whose metier is mostly a dour and slightly Calvinist glare that exposes the seamier precincts of human desire and behavior in depressingly raw terms. His subjects range from streetwalkers, cocktail parties that look like clueless celebrations in the eye of the social hurricane in the 1960s (or in Portland and Seattle, circa 2020), Zsa Zsa Gabor’s driver’s license pic, moments of drunkenness, public making out, many many exposed teenage legs going up and down stairs or posing in a variety of places that make them seem Spring Breakishly available for mischief, and a killer under arrest viewed in Gerhard Richter black-and-white. Most of these are photographically sourced from flash-lit freeze frames, offering him black outlines that push his figures forward. Much of it seems a dark celebration of the despised male gaze skulking at the edge of legality. What a relief to see a well-behaved girl tamed by the greatest of the Impressionists. But wait. Even here, if you try enough search engine queries, it turns out the Manet has a little transgender touch that pulls the knowledgeable viewer out of the comfort zone and into the present: Mademoiselle V in the Costume of an Espada. A young woman as matador, drag king in mid-19th century Paris. In his sly au courant way Tennant has stuck to his program: the notion of normality is a relic. It was on the wane already back then at the birth of modernity, when Manet’s nude enjoyed lunch on the grass with a couple fully dressed men. By contrast, the subject matter is what’s least interesting with Tennant, but it appears to bring him a huge following, a Pamplona stampede of fans if you check his Instagram. I suspect the seedier side of his imaginative home is a decoy. Like that pink cape, it draws you close enough for his brushwork to slay you. Those killer marks recommend him to anyone who paints.

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20th Annual Rogue Winterfest

Holiday Singers, Rogue Winterfest 2018 at Evergreen’s Bear Hotel

Drea Cofield at Exeter

Drea Cofield, Mantis, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 inches, 2021

Drea Cofield’s more recent work has an idiosyncratic way of engaging visually with the natural world that brings to mind Burchfield and Nick Blosser, though her work seems closer to the spirit of animation. Burchfield is one of the few non-Asian painters who have depicted cicadas, and not just the legs, wings, and thoraxes, but also their rattlesnake, high-frequency whine. Cofield does insects in an equally interesting way. There’s a charmingly Disneyesque but disquieting air to her praying mantises. Some of her natural scenes are simplified but exacting in the way they capture the light on the deformities of old trees in a drab unpicturesque acre of woods most painters wouldn’t give a second look. All of her current work departs dramatically from her earlier Day Glo caricatures of naked figures cavorting in strange ways in erotic fever dreams. In the image above, the vestigial naked figure is submerged, shimmering under sunlight filtered through the water’s rippled surface. You hardly realize you’re being mooned. Mostly, the new work looks outward at nature, from within the house of her style, to produce carefully observed images of what’s there in the world, not just in her mind, though her vision is a strong and simplifying filter. I’m sorry I missed her work in my visit to The Armory Show. Here’s her bio from Exeter Gallery, a Matt Klos joint in Baltimore celebrating its fifth year of operation (congratulations Matt) exhibiting mostly perceptual painters:
Drea Cofield has created a sensuous and saturated world in her new series of paintings for Soft Limbs. The series depicts the cycle of a day: sunrise, sunset, and night illuminated by cool lavender light. The show is on from Nov. 14th-December 31st. Come celebrate with the artist at a reception on Friday, November 18th from 5-7pm.
Drea Cofield is an artist currently working between Indianapolis, IN and Brooklyn, NY. In 2013, she received her M.F.A from Yale School of Art (New Haven, CT), and in 2008, her B.A from DePauw University (Greencastle, IN). She has exhibited in the U.S. and internationally including New York, Los Angeles, and Perugia, Italy. Most recently she exhibited in the Armory Show with 1969 Gallery in New York; solo exhibitions at the Tube Artspace in Indianapolis and DePauw University. Upcoming exhibitions include a solo exhibition at Exeter Gallery in Baltimore, MD. Her work has been featured in the Brooklyn Rail, Artnet News, Juxtapoz, Blouin Art Info, and in Suzanne Hudson’s latest issue of Contemporary Painting (World of Art). She is the recipient of an Elizabeth Greenshields Grant and the Yale University Gloucester Painting Prize. Residencies include the Guild of Adventure Painters SWAB Mobile Residency in 2019. She is the Founder and Director of Bomb Pop-Up, a pop-up Art & Music initiative that focuses on providing visibility in exciting contexts to emerging and established artists and musicians, working with over 200 artists from all over the world and collaborating with institutions such as the National Academy of Design. Cofield has been a visiting artist at Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, and a returning critic at the School of Visual Arts. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

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Jean Stephens

Above are multiple opportunities to see new work from Jean Stephens, including the current excellent group show at Oxford, Spellbound: The Art of Mystery. It’s well worth the effort to take a look.

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Rothko represented

From Daily Rothko on Instagram:

Here’s a pretty well-known quote in context. A part of the context is that it is from Selden Rodman’s book. The telling of it printed here is the most accurate that we’ve got, and perhaps this is relevant as I’m seeing it condensed or misquoted in memes often.

“You might as well get one thing straight,” he said, relaxing, “I’m not an abstractionist.”


“You’re an abstractionist to me,” I said. “You’re a master of color harmonies and relationships on a monumental scale. Do you deny that?”

“I do. I’m not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on — and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!” – Selden Rodman, Conversations with Artists.
 

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