Making nice: Carroll offers pleasantries

I know I'm in the minority. I prefer art that’s challenging and perhaps a little reckless, that makes me think twice and might even bite me back. But that’s not what most people want. The greater populace enjoys art that’s pretty and reassuring, providing a pleasant place for their eyes to rest. Art snobs may scoff, but there’s a reason why Thomas Kinkade and Bob Ross are household names, and why most people scratch their heads when asked about art-world darlings like John Currin.

Though less saccharine than the “painter of light,” Philip J. Carroll clearly falls into the niche of nice. His oil-on-panel landscapes, which currently hang at Warm Springs Gallery in an exhibition called “Seasons,” offer idyllic scenes of pastures and rivers at different times of the year. No figures are present, but often distant farm buildings and silos evoke a simple, up-with-the-roosters way of life.

Occasionally, Carroll shifts from his wide-angle views to focus on a pastoral icon, like a metal bucket in the doorway of a barn (requisite red paint on the wood and hay in the background) or a wide-eyed bunny sitting in the grass. A two-word phrase that sums up Carroll’s approach is “bucolic idealism.” The world he paints is soothingly familiar, without a trace of trouble.

Carrroll’s landscapes often draw the viewer in with a road, path, or waterway. Even when such a trope is absent, as in “Wish You Were Here,” Carrroll angles tall field grasses or other natural features to usher the eye into the scene. His palette sticks to the colors he observes, perhaps enhanced a smidgeon but never in a way that challenges believability.

Carroll’s brushwork, interestingly, is often at odds with his placid subject matter. Seemingly compelled to articulate every grassy frond in a meadow and each individual hair of a rabbit’s coat, he opts for short strokes of varied colors in the foreground, switching to an almost pointillistic style for trees and shrubbery in the distance. This technique effectively prevents the viewer’s eye from relaxing into the calmness of the compositions.

Where Carroll excels is in his treatment of unusual light. In “Vigilant,” the pink-veined translucence of the rabbit’s ear is convincing, as is the post-sunset glow on a wintry horizon in “Uphill.”

Carroll’s paintings are the kind found in waiting rooms and beside hotel elevators— pleasant fare that won’t bite you back.
Philip J. Carroll’s exhibition, ”Seasons,” is on view through August 31 at Warm Springs Gallery. 105 Third St. 245-0800.

Read more on: Phillip J. Carroll