Local focus: Landmarks featured in Peri's paintings

Christian Peri will be exhibiting at Feast! in the Main Street Market next month, but in the meantime you can catch his paintings as you brunch at Higher Grounds on the Downtown Mall.
Alas, this venue might not be the best place for his work. Higher Grounds is a fine establishment, but Peri’s art has a certain strange aspect to it that might make it better suited to the other end of the Mall– maybe some available space in City Hall.
Peri may not feel any special need to promote Charlottesville explicitly and without mitigation or complication, but his work certainly suggests otherwise. Without exception, Peri’s paintings reproduce local and regional landmarks straightforwardly and without any distracting flair or taste for expressionism.
Sometimes it seems as though Peri draws a fair bit of inspiration from the kinds of photos that turn up in travel brochures and university viewbooks. Can that be right? Needless to say, it’s an odd visual sidebar to the black t-shirt and huevos rancheros set.
His rendition of the Louisa Courthouse, for example, places the building square in the center of the frame, cocked at a slight angle. It’s somewhat effaced by a burly tree, but clearly it’s the center and focus of the work– after all, it takes up nearly the entire painting. It could be wintertime. It could be overcast. The trees stand out slightly, with their branches of gloopy paint. The courthouse itself has been painted in a flat, slightly smeared style. There’s a picket fence running along the bottom, but that’s no substitute for tension. 
Other local/regional landmarks that receive the Peri treatment include the Rotunda (depicted straight-on and looking a bit like a mug-shot of a building), the University Chapel (shown with a pale-pink sun-glow facade– the most attractive detail in Peri’s exhibit), and two (two!) paintings of University Gardens. Here the tangle of branches and flowers (not wintertime) seems to inspire Peri to more dynamic work.
With the harder lines comes more confidence. In “University Gardens: Waiting for a Date,” however, Peri shoots himself in the foot, placing the painting’s weakest element– a park bench and a person without a face– right in the center. The other garden painting skips on the young dating coed and the bench and gets things about right.

Artist Cristian Peri has an exhibition of paintings in oils on canvas now running at the Higher Grounds café on the Downtown Mall. 212 Main St. 971-8743.

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