Tuesday, September 25, 2007
It's the perfect season for this Clare Doveton show.
The fields, harvested to the soil, are down to their elemental basis. Likewise, Doveton is exploring, through her painting, the idea of a personal fallow period.
"Each piece is a documentation of the journey through frenzied burns to peaceful groundings in my work and life," she writes in her artist's statement. "I am awed that one can be guided so clearly through watching the nature that surrounds us all."
Makes sense, then, that Doveton's paintings now on view at Pachamama's bare the roots of 20th-century modernity-a time when painting was elemental. Like the post- Surrealist/pre-Abstract Expressionist renegades who focused on paint, surface, and the inner life of the artist, Doveton's abstractions are more about paint and process than concept. In an art world focused on the Big Idea, this is a refreshing, inclusive approach.
Doveton uses her palette knife to thickly layer paint onto the surfaces (canvas or paper); she then scrapes lines and unintelligible lettering into the wet paint, delineating perspective and drawing the viewer toward connections.
"Touching Cloud" depicts an abstracted field sprawling away toward the horizon, a cloud hovering over the plowed rows. In an active visual plane, the straight line scraped into the paint connecting the cloud to the field below brings a centering calm to the canvas, giving the eye reprieve.
Curiously, torn pages of a dictionary are decoupaged into the paint, the most readable word being "chord." The connections feel literal-a chord connecting the earth and sky, perhaps-but they leave the question: What to make of them?
They're jarring, to say the least; quite a surprise when seeing the paintings in person for the first time. Juxtaposing printed matter with painting like this is like hitting a wall-the eye moves over and across, thrilled with the ride, when suddenly the ditch appears when it's too late. Sure, the small type pulls you closer, but association of movement and images is then pinned to those damned little words. It seems to betray the energy.
In another oil on canvas, "To Reach You," Doveton scratches the paint to produce a tension between the sun/moon orb in the sky and the sea/land below. Again, pages are torn into triangle shapes, a gravitational pull laboriously lifting them into the air. The artist's treatment makes the title feel like a plaintive plea, the triangles and perhaps the sea/land yearning to reach the sky.
All of this talk of imagery, however, shouldn't distract from Doveton's downright gorgeous abstractions. Her works owe much to early Abstract Expressionists like Hans Hofmann (see his "Composition," 1942) and the automatic writing of Surrealist Andre Breton. Fields of color and thick paint show the direct touch of the artist. Her quick, illegible lettering is enigmatic, a curious combination of a mind-body connection working at a pace opposite the quiet scenes she often chooses as subjects. Again, this dichotomy gives the paintings a life-affirming, necessary tension.
It also brings together the stepchildren of contemporary art: landscape, expressionism, and painting. Doveton rejuvenates the genres by combining them: like Keith Jacobshagen (who has been making visual love to Nebraska farm fields for decades), she takes them for what they are, but then she celebrates them with her personal energy while also nakedly showing off her medium.
Doveton's explorations in color are careful but spot-on. Large canvases combine browns and blues with whites, the colors melding actively with one another. (In "Touching Cloud," the ochre of the field is repeated with a few strokes in the sky, producing a lovely echo.) In a series of works on paper, she combines hot oranges, reds, yellows, blacks, and browns to make otherworldly scene that seem to burn on a plane removed from her larger canvases.
Doveton's exhibition is a homecoming of sorts: after living in New York City, she returned to her hometown of Lawrence and was inspired by the fields along the Kansas River. Her paintings depict this transitional stage; combining old scenes with new energy, she has created an exploration of self that also hits close to another early goal of modernity: a universal language.