By Tom Wachunas
“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” –English critic Walter Pater, 1873
EXHIBITS: Recent paintings by Marti Jones Dixon at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street (downtown Canton) THROUGH SEPT. 30; ALSO, Scenes From Hitchcock, at Julz by Alan Rodriguez, 220 Market Ave. N (downtown Canton), THROUGH OCT. 31
At one point during my drive home from Journey Art Gallery after viewing these recent oil paintings by Marti Jones Dixon, the lovely Barcarolle from Offenbach’s opera, “Tales of Hoffman,” came on the radio. It was one of those uncanny moments when music absolutely clarified and magnified a visual encounter.
Barcarolles were originally musical expressions based on the lilting, slow rhythms of folk melodies sung by Venetian gondoliers. And suddenly a picture coalesced in my mind of Marti Dixon gently – but oh so purposefully - laying down paint on a canvas, as if rowing through a scene, stroke by stroke.
The images themselves can best be described as contemporary “genre art” – scenes of everyday life. [Note: the exhibit at Julz, which I’m not reviewing in this post, features scenes from Alfred Hitchcock films wherein Hitchcock inserted himself.] But this isn’t to denigrate them as being commonplace or unremarkable. For that, all we need do is surf digital social media to look at myriad manifestations of photographic mediocrity.
So yes, Dixon’s oil paintings are derived from photos, and their small scale enhances their casual, snapshot immediacy. Viewing them isn’t too unlike browsing through the artist’s personal photo album, or someone’s Facebook page. After that, though, what separates them from being ordinary depictions of the familiar is Dixon’s consummate skill in constructing, or orchestrating various elements that transform them into elegantly painted realities – parallel to observable reality, yet separate and unique.
Here is an intimate world, true to itself. Dixon models her figures and objects not with the illusionistic drama of chiaroscuro, or by dazzling us with hyper-realist linear details, but with planes of color subtly modulated with distinct brush marks. The gestural confidence and fluidity of those markings at times recalls a Cezannesque expressivity, though perhaps not quite so muscular in nature. Paired with her translation of diffused light, which we might call warm or optimistic, most of these scenes are imbued with a tangible quietude and serenity.
Meanwhile, there’s just the right touch of narrative and compositional mystique in some of them. We don’t directly know the people depicted, yet somehow feel invited to eavesdrop, or enter the space they occupy. Bally Maloe House is a fascinating, unified fusion of rectilinear and curvilinear pictorial space. While the central room in the image recedes inward to another room’s doorway, its light-colored ceiling seems to flare outward and forward on the top left edge of the painting to a darkened, arched point, playfully directing our attention to both the staircase leading up, and outward, beyond the picture plane. What room might we encounter then? Could it be the lovely chamber where the man and woman are seated at the table in Tea?
Dixon’s relaxed technique allows each brush stroke, each individually described shape, to have a character all its own - like a musician’s solo passages beautifully integrated with the structured, lyrical rhythms of the full orchestra. Shhh. Can you hear the harmonies?
PHOTOS (from top): Edie Coming In; Bally Maloe House; Tea; Green Room