House of paint: Color artists span the spectrum
I am a menace behind the wheel this time of year. First there’s the magenta redbud, then the pink dogwood, followed by yellow tulips and violet lilacs, and the next thing you know I’m veering off the road.
A safer way for me to get drunk on color is to walk around the house; not my house–the old clapboard in Barboursville that serves as the Nichols Gallery Annex, which currently features the group exhibition “Art About Color.” Curated by Fred Nichols, whose own watercolor and silkscreen landscapes offer a dizzying maelstrom of color, the show features work by 15 regional artists.
With the exception of a few printmakers, most of the participants are painters. Although all are concerned with color, the techniques and aesthetics run the gamut, ranging from John Murray’s small still lifes to Lillian Fitzgerald’s encaustic collaged abstracts to Priscilla Whitlock’s large impressionistic landscapes.
The show has no weak links, but two artists are standouts. Rob Browning creates acrylic paintings, rich with saturated colors, which occupy a fascinating space between realism and surrealism. With no obvious brushwork revealing Browning’s hand, they suggest strange, elusive narratives– something has either happened or is about to happen, but it’s unclear exactly what.
In Browning’s “Arch,” a small red bird flies from a central white birdbath toward a sunlight-filled arch in a hedge on the right The viewer can’t help but wonder what waits beyond the arch. Browning’s composition is geometrically thrilling, offering the visual impact of a color block painting. The arched green hedge on the right is balanced by its soft brown shadow rising on a terracotta wall on the left. In the distance, beyond the crisp dark-green edge of the hedge in the distance, orange and violet treetops billow like clouds against a periwinkle blue sky.
Completely different but equally mesmerizing, Steve Griffin’s “Strata” series of painted abstracts hold the eye with regulated horizontal stripes of varying hues and width. Yet seemingly random variations interrupt the flow with surprises–a rough-edged intrusion here, a gradation there–allowing under layers of colors to surface. Reminiscent of Washington Color School work, Griffin’s pieces resemble cross-sections of sedimentary rock or the side of a weathered barn painted in circus colors.
Although Griffin juxtaposes mustards, turquoises, oranges, and purples, his compositions are surprisingly soothing and meditative. Particularly beautiful is the way he incorporates the texture of the canvas.
Beautifully hung, the disparate pieces in “Art About Color” form an intoxicating collective. Drink up.
"Art About Color" is on view at the Nichols Gallery Annex through May 17. Barboursville, near the intersection of Rte. 20 and Rte. 33. 540-832-3565.