Saturday, June 12, 2010

All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Show

All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Show

By Tom Wachunas

Lots of painters will tell you that red can be therapeutic for an ailing picture. A splash here, or a brushy flourish there, can revive even the wimpiest of scenarios. Red, the crimson panacea for lackluster palettes.

As evidenced by their joint exhibit of oil paintings at 2nd April Galerie, called “Dress Code,” neither Lynn Digby nor Marti Jones Dixon needs any help in spicing up a palette. But it’s the red, for example, in Digby’s portrait, “Nichole,” that adds an unexpected dimension of whimsical theatricality (or perhaps a more dramatic foreshadowing of lost innocence?) to an already stunningly painted picture.

The young girl in a long blue formal dress and white tennies has a look of self-assuredness well beyond her years. A single red flower and lost petal, both isolated against the warm (you can see the faintest wisps of red underpainting here and there) grayish “floor.” Field would be more like it – a field of vigorously laid-in brush strokes, smoothed just so, surrounding the figure.

“Buffy” is an astonishing portrait, too - a symphony of sumptuous textures and patterns, all bathed in the aura of gentle daylight from a window at the upper left of the picture. While there’s considerable, jaw-dropping dazzle in the detail here, the graceful composition spreads it out such that it’s never overbearing or gratuitous.

There is a classical sort of elegance in the way Digby paints the fleeting glances and expressions of her subjects. Yet her blending technique is never so pristine that you lose a sense of the paint’s substance. At the heart of her remarkable technical facility is a straightforward presentation of reality without surrendering to slick illusionism for its own sake.

Similarly, the paintings by Marti Jones Dixon are imbued with honest physicality, though with a distinctly different kind of painterly refinement. And like Digby, she’s an astute observer of the effects of light on color and form.

Dixon’s paintings have a constructed look about them. The placement of brush strokes (as in “Bev in Red” and “Hillary”) – some long and fluid, others staccato, like punctuation marks – seems deliberate and intentional without being fussy or self-conscious. Her methodology invariably generates pictures of an energetic, compelling immediacy.

Now, back to the efficacy of red. Several of Dixon’s paintings here are of different posers wearing the same thrift-store red dress. One of her strongest pieces is also one of the oddest, in a genuinely funny sort of way. “Todd” is a portrait of Second April co-owner Todd Walburn wearing the dress and peering out at us with a gaze of resolute acceptance. The perspective is a marvelously rendered one. It makes eminently clear that even if you’ve never met Mr. Walburn, he’s a very tall man.

Interestingly enough, Lynn Digby’s strongest works here feature blue clothes, making for some fascinating visual counterpoint. This show, then, certainly isn’t about a single color. In fact the common theme shared by the artists (who both have studios in the Second April building) is that of clothed figures, and grew out of joint conversation and consultation. So for all of the formal excellence that’s abundant here, what gives the show much of its unique energy is its sense of stylistic cross-fertilization, and of dialogue between not just the artists among themselves and their subjects, but the implied dialogue with us, their viewers. And in all, it’s a delightful and memorable conversation.

Photo: “Buffy” – oil, 36” x 48” – by Lynn Digby. On view through end of August in “Dress Code,” at Second April Galerie, 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton.

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