Dark dreams: Regan's canvases cast a spell

In childhood, painter Jeannine Barton Regan suffered a partial hearing loss. Like most children faced with an added and significant obstacle to communication, Regan reacted by becoming an introvert. She spent more time by herself in the woods around her home and less time around people. 
That period of introversion and childhood fantasy now marks the work Regan has created for her latest exhibit at the McGuffey Art Center, “Dreams and Other States.” In “Dreams,” Regan mixes landscapes and imagery from both the childhood of this introspective period and the fantasies of a lonely child, at times updated here to accommodate the form of a fully grown Regan.
And when it comes to dreamspace and dimly lit nightscape, a familiar scene in this exhibit, it helps to have a technique like Regan’s. Her watercolor looks nothing like the typical, washed-out and cloudy business countless artists have used in their quest for the perfect sailboat-and-sunset scene. Her paintings are dark and scratched, full of solid, darkened earthtones that saturate her canvas like the concentrated stains of coffee, oil, or grass. She paints on textured surfaces, which only lends an extra layer of grit to her work. Her watercolor strokes can come layered so thickly they almost look like burn marks. 
“Sacred Place,” one of Regan’s dark woods scenes, looks so worried and gouged that it almost seems to have been created by chance– a canvas left out in the mud and rain that randomly turns up a recognizable image. 
Regan actively tries to cast a fey spell with this work. Ravens turn up frequently, and seldom without the company of young women staring out blankly from the painting. Between these paintings and the straight landscapes, Regan’s aesthetic seems to waiver– as if she hasn’t fully committed to the grainy darkness and penumbra vision of her landscapes or to the more straightforward realist work, mostly containing the ravens and women. 
If Regan isn’t quite as convincing or deft with human or aviary forms, what she does do is craft something like a narrative that runs through a great deal of the exhibit. Regan’s work would make a terrific children’s book. It’s surprising, actually, that many of the paintings weren’t conceived with just that purpose in mind. 

Jeannine Barton Regan’s “Dreams and Other Altered States” runs through September at the McGuffey Art Center, 201 Second St. NW.  295-7973.

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