Quiet scenes, wild delight

Fall, oil on panel, 9″ x 12″

There is still plenty of time to see Second Sight, a final solo show of work by Ron Milewicz at Elizabeth Harris before the gallery space permanently closes. It’s another Manhattan gallery to mourn, along with OK Harris and Danese Corey and many others. One wonders how long rent can keep rising in Manhattan before a growing number of commercial spaces become permanently empty. This particular show is a treat, showing how Milewicz continues to refine his idiosyncratic, radiant vision of nature. His paintings seem almost a visualization of what the English Romantic poets and the American transcendentalists extolled: the spiritual energy inherent in nature. I’ve compared his work before to Burchfield and to a Tennessee painter, Nick Blosser, whom I discovered a couple decades ago at the Adam Baumgold Gallery. What’s distinct in Second Sight is the central importance of light: the world of nature Milewicz depicts seems not just to be intensely illuminated, but to be made of light or lit from within. This isn’t an easy feat to pull off but he does it beautifully.

In Maple Swirl he offers the viewer a single green maple against a background of the surrounding woods. Light shines through all the gaps in the leaves, and it works as a representation of a shaded woodland view. The greenery is perforated by the bright, midday sky softly piercing the tree. Yet there’s an intentional confusion of figure and ground, emphasizing the abstract alternation between white and green (the painting is almost entirely those colors), and giving the glimpses of bright light a congealed but ghostly physicality, as if they are dancing in the foreground, between the viewer and the tree. He’s as interested in the quality of that light as he is in the tree he’s ostensibly painting. Here the tree reveals the light rather than the other way around.

In Not So Pink Pond, the light glows around the edges of branches and leaves, the way sunlight glows outward from around the borders of clouds. The row of slim trees reaching up to the canopy remain dark, lit from behind, but Milewicz applies great effort to rendering the varied color of the shaded trunks and the soft ovoid condensation of faint color that give volume to the leaves—the color in both foreground and in the brightly lit clearing beyond that row of trees is rich and autumnal and alive. He kept working on this particular painting off and on for 14 years.

In Cedar and Pond, one of the most subtle and minimal offerings in the show, he presents a convincing scene—a conical cedar standing alone in late fall or early winter against a wooded background where all the bare limbs are represented as a single oval mass echoing the shape of a cloud overhead, as if the leaves and clouds were a continuum.

The autumn woods, blindingly illuminated by the sun overhead, in Later, seem to melt into a golden fluid that curls itself into a wave: you almost expect to see someone or something riding the pipe at the center of this wave. In Fall, Milewicz unifies a complex scene full of syncopated lights and darks, where intense light seems to rise up from the ground, and even the dull blue sky shown in glimpses at the top looks as if it’s almost lit from below. The irregular pattern of shapes dancing across the panel could easily collapse into chaos in lesser hands, but somehow he coordinates every element in the painting.

It’s an exhibition of great, unconventional beauty. It consistently reminded me of how much the natural world shaped me as a boy, how my experience of nature conveyed the sense of something beyond the reach of my conscious awareness, but always there, a liberating state of inexpressible joy behind or below a mind preoccupied by the demands of daily life. As Emerson put it: “In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through a man, in spite of real sorrows.”

 

 

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