Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When the Medium Massages the Message

When the Medium Massages the Message
By Tom Wachunas

Over a considerable period of years, North Canton painter Diane Belfiglio has honed a particularly crisp style of realism that eschews expressive or generous paint application in favor of a more photographic presence. That is neither to say her acrylic canvases look like photographs, nor that Belfiglio intended as much. In her methodology, photographs do, however, serve as an inspirational starting point from which to design her tightly rendered, smooth-surfaced paintings of what she has described in past artist statements as “closely cropped architectural images bathed in the play of sunlight and shadows.”

Indeed, the operative term in her description is “play,” as the pictorial language she has fashioned is a startlingly clear and strong point-counterpoint between solid forms and their shadows (which are, to be sure, forms in themselves), all subtly illuminated by and interacting under an unseen sun. While her paintings are certainly faithful representations of recognizable “scenes,” they yield an even richer viewing experience when that “play” is regarded as an abstract dialogue between forms. Belfiglio pulls it all together via a combination of highly skilled draftsmanship, masterful composition, and a remarkable (and absolutely necessary) understanding of color.

And so it is that while the raison detre behind Belfiglio’s most recent work remains consistent with her past acrylic architectural series, the overall look has undergone a significant evolution, due in large part to her shift into oil pastels. Currently there are two of the recent pastels on view at Second April Galerie in downtown Canton: “Jamestown Geometry I” and “Jamestown Geometry IV.” Both drawings are close-up views of fence-like structures made of logs and standing in sand. As in earlier acrylic paintings, the pastel images exude a meditative energy. But here the overall pictorial information seems distilled, simplified, or “minimalistic” when compared to many of the more formally complex compositions of the paintings. And while clarity of line is still very much at work, edges are softer, and color transitions of one form into another are more subtle. In fact, the Impressionist technique of “filling in” the forms with tiny, accumulated flecks of varying colors is clearly more painterly here, providing a new dimension of surface interest and spontaneity, and a generally lyrical sensibility.

It’s worth noting that another of Belfiglio’s recent pastels, “Potomac Patterns II,” earned a purchase award in the 73d National Midyear Exhibition at the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, and on view until August 23. Hers is one of only 74 works chosen for this prestigious exhibit (one of the oldest juried exhibitions in the country) out of 758 entries received.

Perhaps one way to fully appreciate the new direction in Belfiglio’s work is to think of her earlier paintings as boldly voiced sentences, or matter-of-fact statements articulated with muscular and cerebral confidence. These new pieces are quieter, though no less engaging. Like ballads beautifully sung.

Photo: “Potomac Patterns II,” oil pastel.

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