Intriguing work at Main Street Arts

translucent red of the earring—like a trompe l’oeil drop of blood or Kool Aid—is echoed by the blank, zombie-ish red glow that replaces her eyes. It sounds ghoulish, but the effect is subtle, seductive and captivating—which makes it all the more disquieting. 

Pirjo Berg’s oils on paper, reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s dense and multi-colored abstractions executed with squeegees and deep layers of paint, were nearly colorless, by comparison with the German master, but they effectively suggest both motion and electronic media—the blur of a culture moving so quickly forward that everything melts into a virtual blizzard of horizontal lines. Elizabeth Courtney’s This Green Place II uses heavily and loosely worked impasto, a bit like Stanley Lewis, but more faithful to the actual look of the wooded, remote glimpse of summer pond she depicts with great skill. The sky is slathered on with a knife and yet it has exactly the energized, gorgeous brilliance of summer, the sort of light Van Gogh wanted to convey in his glimpses of southern France—the sort of light that is such a distant memory now, close to the darkest day of the year. 

Alex Gruttadero, himself a local curator, has finally done what I’ve been thinking for quite a while that someone needs to do: portraits of Lego people. There are so many interesting ways to make it work and he’s found the most straightforward: a loose, assured depiction of one with a sweep of forelock and handlebar mustache, complete with cupholder-shaped hands. It lives in that zone where some of my own work lives: a subject suitable for Pop Art but done in a painterly way, lit with feeling, as if he’s just caught the little fellow on his way to another eight-hour grind at his plastic office. 

Of Chad Cleveland ’s three offerings, two seem inspired by the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe—a crow (rather than a raven) and a skull—but both are executed with such painterly energy they felt like Jungian celebrations of psychological complexity and depth. I kept returning to the one that merged a human face with the silhouette of a crow, the two sharing the same eye, that divulged its roughly rendered intricacies only to sustained, patient observation. And several of Connie Ehindero’s encaustics are probably the best argument for getting in your car and showing up in person for the exhibit: there’s no way to convey in a photograph the sort of uniquely beautiful color only encaustic can achieve—more than any other medium, it’s thick translucence gives it the quality of flesh or murky stained glass, with light reflecting back from multiple layers. It’s the best argument against Walter Benjamin’s thesis—and Warhol’s for that matter—that the manufacture and mechanization of art so often means the singularity of an original object itself no longer matters. The only way to actually see what Ehindero does with her medium is to get as close as you can to the actual work. 

Eventually, as usual, I wandered upstairs and happened on a couple paintings that could easily have been a centerpiece of the show—but weren’t actually part of it. They were virtually hidden in one of the side rooms, an afterthought that will serve as a sort of rare Easter egg for anyone curious enough to seek them out. They were a pair of small oils by Bradley Butler, director of the gallery, and thus wouldn’t have been eligible for the exhibit, but could easily have won the top prize. 

Most powerful is an acrylic on panel entitled, amusingly, “Life is (And Isn’t) Meaningful.” It’s nearly as crepuscular as the prize-winning self-portrait downstairs, but more colorful and with more dramatic effects of light. One of my companions at the show read my mind: “It looks very Asian.” Yes, if you were to take a Chinese scroll painting, turn it sideways, and let Turner whip up a version of the landscape at midnight. It’s entirely done in black and a sort of phosphorescent blue, with a massive Gibraltar-like promontory in the misty distance rendered in purple. It immediately looks like a stormy, Romantic shoreline—opening for Poldark in storyboard—but with small touches of white and a scumbled plume of it in the center of the painting suggesting foamy, breaking wave crests and moonlight just starting to peer over that massive mound shaped like one of those Chinese karsts featured in Sung dynasty landscapes. 

The effect the painting achieves is remarkable. All the detail is entirely imaginary, in the mind of the viewer, because the surface itself is little more than boldly applied, directional brushstrokes, or smudges of twisted paint layered on top of a previous quick coat. I couldn’t help thinking of the twisted, tiered branches of West Coast cypress, though there’s nothing to indicate any of that in the black sections over at the right. The painting is all about the flowing brush, loaded with paint, but the result is haunting and evocative and mysteriously specific. Just beyond the horizontal, rocky spit in the foreground, where I imagine gnarled roots being pummeled by water, rises that looming, glowing mount that conceals the moon and seems itself to evaporate into the sky. It’s like a glimpse of next year: I’m certain something interesting awaits me there, but I can’t quite know what it is. 

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