Two years ago, Meg West’s focus shifted from graphic design to oil painting, and the inspiration for that change is obvious in every one of her paintings. A resident of Crozet, West paints what she sees and where she lives– the backyard gardens, rolling fields, and undulating peaks of the Blue Ridge.
That West is new to oil painting is also apparent in the exhibit. There is a wide and erratic range of styles and quality in the paintings. Some earlier work– a few of which are almost too recent to call early– show a less confident West. These, mostly of garden scenes, betray the awkward steps of a beginning painter– an emphasis on getting it looking right to the detriment of brush stroke, style, and composition.
Recently, however, West has glommed on to a new aesthetic– a soft-focus hazy lens which gives expanse to her lazy mountain ridges and a cotton-candy lightness to her treetops. Oddly enough, with the shift in style– from hard line to cloudy blur– West has shored up her sense of composition. Her foregrounded objects move from the center of the frame and tend to rest in the lower corners. She has become immediately more aware of shadow, and she drops some nuanced, time-of-day lighting detail into her recent stuff.
West has also been experimenting with painting surface. For her newer works, she has been mounting a glowing orange paper on masonite and using that as a starting point. Leaving the orange exposed in tiny spots gives the late-afternoon/evening Blue Ridge panoramas a bit of a halo, especially in the cream-colored skies tucked up underneath the top of her frame.
One painting on hand, “Rose Hill Study,” may show yet another path the quickly evolving West might take. Taken from nearly the same view as another painting, “Rose Hill Farm,” this one begins with a tight turn on a back road lined with trees and distills it into a geometry of light and dark. Shady trees form a darkened rectangle at the far right of the frame, and up the center there’s a triangle of road at the bottom and its inverse, a slice of blue sky above.
A much more confide nt, pencil-eraser-thick brush stroke has become the new unit of measurement, and much harder angles have crept into the painting, leaving a bit of a woodcut look to it all. Not a bad path to take.
Meg West’s “Summer Views: Discovered Landscapes,” an exhibit of oil paintings, runs through the end of October at the New Dominion Book Shop. 404 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 295-2552.