Color Queries, an exhibition at LewAllen’s Railyard Gallery running from March 9 to April 15, is at once an extension of the gallery’s celebrated practice of displaying work that masterfully involves color as a principal component of visual language, while at the same time represents a departure from its well-recognized program of exhibiting the work of older and more established lions of East Coast painting traditions. While examining three seemingly disparate ways in which color animates pictorial expression within this stylistically varied exhibit, the show features the work of a trio of younger artists from the Western and Midwestern United States.
It also introduces to the gallery a new painter, Woody Shepherd, whose muscular painting style portrays observations from nature through complex compositions and bold, active color. Shepherd, a graduate of the Yale School of Art and the recipient of numerous painting awards, is juxtaposed with two very different artists who have long been a part of LewAllen’s painting stable and whose use of color is equally powerful –if perhaps less dramatic.
The viewer has a similar sense of Shepherd’s fantastic revelations of nature as critic Clare Griffiths described in the Times Literary Supplement about the recent, intensely chromatic English landscapes by David Hockney: the paintings “delight in pattern and color, yet they also take the viewer into a simulacrum of a real landscape.”
Shepherd’s re-imagined treescapes utilize striking color to advance and reinterpret landscape painting; this tightly focused group conveys an acutely personal sense of the North Carolina woods from which Shepherd hales, but strokes of electric chartreuse and neon orange inject energetic and unexpected elements to our traditional understanding of painted woodland scenes. With his vibrantly colored, large-scale tableaux, Shepherd suggests that color not only adds to a strictly visual appreciation of a composition, but also has a galvanizing effect on our ultimate understanding of and engagement with the subject matter.
In the newest of Timothy Schmitz’s deeply nuanced, atmospheric compositions, color and texture form a symbiotic relationship. By employing a range of artistic mediums and techniques–including oil, wax, ground marble, alkyd and resin–he creates works whose ethereal and richly textural character make them resistant to easy classification; earthy coppers and chalky grays are anchored by the sculptural quality of the surface. By varying the number of multimedia layers he applies, he differentiates areas of color–urging the viewer to consider the transformational power of pared down, pure color. Allowing for subtle gradations or emphasizing bolder, more grounded areas of hue, Schmitz speaks to the sustaining and resolutely organic qualities of natural environments.
California painter Jimi Gleason has long been heralded for his boldly chromatic, luminescent compositions. His experimentations with the effects of light and shadow on pure color make him an innovative contributor to contemporary minimalist painting. Gleason’s foil-hued, iridescent palette of acrylics achieves an uncanny depth and striking quality of transparency. In his application of dozens of layers of pearlescent paint, Gleason creates for the viewer an immersive experience which is both optical and deeply phenomenological. Radiating outward from the center of the canvas, the paint pools in runnels and folds along the edges, forming an effervescent frame that is both constantly in flux and frozen in time. Colors, tones, and textures emerge and shift as ambient light and the viewer’s perspective change. In showcasing paint’s mutable qualities while simultaneously encouraging media autonomy, Jimi Gleason’s paintings are both synthetic and effortlessly organic.
At first glance, the minimal purity of Gleason and the spare, textural abstractions of Schmitz have little in common with Shepherd’s vibrantly representational landscapes. However, these artists collectively explore color’s role as a visual and emotional catalyst, and in doing so create an engaging experience rooted in their individual insights about beauty. Their work reflects the different ways in which each sees the world, whether the reality is an internal one–in the case of the two non-representational participants, Gleason and Schmitz–or in Shepherd’s case, an external one. These realities are each mediated by the other realm too, wherein the artist’s observed environment melds with his personal sensibilities to portray unique stylistic responses. What transcends their various pictorial modalities is the remarkable fluency with which each uses color to articulate his unique visual message.