By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: Turn, Turn, Turn: Through the Seasons with Doreen St. John, oil paintings and pastels presented by TRANSLATIONS ART GALLERY at CYRUS CUSTOM FRAMING and ART GALLERY, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio, THROUGH JANUARY 30, 2016 www.cyruscustom.com
I do not want to only create “pretty paintings”, or for my work to be simply surface decoration, but something more. Often that “something” is indefinable, but when I am successful the work speaks for itself. In the words of Li Po, an 8th century Chinese philosopher, “That art is best which to the soul’s range gives no bound…Something besides the form, Something beyond the sound.”
- excerpt from the artist statement of Doreen St. John
After reading the artist’s statement for this exhibit, then looking closely at the works, I was reminded that it is a particularly rarefied artistic soul who won’t settle for making a merely pretty landscape. In that regard, Doreen St, John is eminently accomplished. Whether with oil paint or pastels, her landscapes draw out that ineffable ‘something’ that distinguishes between a competent visual report and a reverent communing with tangible beauty.
Think for a moment on those occasions when, walking through a woods, you felt loamy ground caressing your feet, or a breeze rustling the foliage that tickles your skin. Did you ever see a canopy of trees above you as a stage, where dappled sunlight morphs into so many sparkling dancers, darting about to the music of water whooshing over stones in a stream? Or the ghostly play of billowy clouds passing through a crystalline azure sky?
It’s no small feat to call forth specific sensory experiences by pulling a brush across canvas, or pressing a pigment stick to paper. But that’s the uncanny giftedness of Doreen St. John, beckoning us to remember and desire an impassioned connectivity to nature. She does visually what Henry David Thoreau did with words in “The Bean Field” from his Walden Pond. Therein he described his “small Herculean” labors as attaching himself to the earth. His repeated motions of hoeing, planting, and vigilant observation were rites of passage, allowing him to discover things, to literally commune with the history of those who worked the land before him.
Just so, St. John’s skilled methodology – her repeated rhythms of serene brushstrokes, the stunning clusters and layers of variably scaled marks, lines and shapes that pulse with breathtaking color – lets us embrace the legacy of those artists who have similarly engaged the landscape genre. Yes, there are nods to the Impressionists Claude Monet (sans the heavy impasto), Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas to be sure. And to a significant extent, there’s a Cezannesque sensitivity to the idea that the most powerful paintings or drawings from nature should somehow convey an endless accumulation of separate visual moments or discrete glimpses, like the individual strands of a weaving or tapestry.
So here’s where Doreen St. John’s “something more” comes into play. Her art is an eloquent convergence of the literal and abstract, a kind of Transcendental Impressionism. Look at the pieces, first from a distance. Then step closer and look again. Again, closer still. Try considering that the perception of any single moment or scene from nature as depicted here carries with it a simultaneous infinity of moments, either as memories (yours as well as the artist’s), new discoveries, or both. Call them mystical, magical, or even cosmic. In any case, they’re much more profound than just pretty.
PHOTOS, from top: Cedar Run Reflections, pastel: Beautiful Day, pastel; Andrews Road Farm, oil; Creekside Willow, pastel; Misty Morning, plein air oil