Friday, September 9, 2011

Vibrato In Paint

Vibrato in Paint
By Tom Wachunas

“He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.”
- Henri Matisse, discussing Gustave Moreau’s mentorship and guiding philosophy on the expressive possibilities of color -

“Donatello au milieu des fauves!” Donatello among the wild beasts! That’s what critic Louis Vauxcelles declared the first time he saw paintings in 1905 by a group of like-minded artists (including, among many others, Matisse, Roualt, and Derain) who quickly became known as The Fauves – The Wild Beasts. As an “official” European movement, Fauvism lasted only several years, and was received with considerable public vitriol and critical antagonism. But its formal characteristics of vivid, strident colors juxtaposed with distilled, subtly abstracted shapes would exert far-reaching influences across both geography and time.

Nancy Stewart Matin is an accomplished beneficiary of that (to name just one) influence. Looking at the many watercolors in her current show at The Little Art Gallery, I felt immersed in a kind of synesthesia, as if hearing a commanding opera soloist – a nimble coloratura soprano whose vibrato is as audaciously earthbound as it is soaringly sweet. As a painter, she’s a self-described “abstract expressionist and a colorist.” True enough. But on her visit to this planet (her show is called “The Visitor”), she has also managed to absorb influences of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse, along with spicy dashes of Surrealism, synthesizing all of it into a thoroughly electrifying, signature iconography.

That electricity – or roar, if you will – emanating from Matin’s adroit handling of what she calls “the fickle nature” of watercolor is most consistently the result of her bold, florid palette and its uncanny luminescence. Matin is anything but timid or complacent about bright color dynamics. Sometimes her compositions are tightly structured and contoured - as in the delightfully exotic “Coconut Bananas” or her humorous “Sunglasses,” with its subtly skewed passages of stripes fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Other compositions are relatively more spontaneous and abstract, as in the primordial, liquid intricacy of “Cave Dwellers.” Still others are imbued with an unmistakably lyrical charm, like “Three Maidens,” wherein flowers seem to suggest a fluid trio of dancers.

But it’s the colors, always those colors, that beckon and grip as if glowing from deep inside the picture plane. Nowhere here is that sensibility more apparent than in the dramatic “Zoar Sunset.” It’s a remarkably simple, balanced picture, compelling in its comparatively limited range of hues. Matin’s loosely drawn Zoar Inn (rendered in wispy black contour lines) is set against a predominantly orange-ish sky, “grained” by vertical streaks of darker colors. The surrounding ground is punctuated with radiant green plant life – a luminous chemistry that makes the entire composition seem to vibrate with an unseen fire’s hypnotic pulsing.

And whatever fire may be driving or guiding Matin’s life journey, this exhibition makes eminently clear that her virtuosic brush continues to sing wildly infectious, exuberant songs of celebration.

Photo: “Picasso Me,” watercolor by Nancy Stuart Matin, on view THROUGH OCTOBER 1 at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton. (330) 499 – 4712, extension 312.

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