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Spectacular "Light of Spring" At Spanierman East Glows With Surprises

Originally Posted: April 02, 2008

Joan Baum

"Sag Harbor Turnpike" by Priscilla Bowden, 2008, acrylic on linen, 12 x 13 inches.

East Hampton - So, you think you know the distinctive styles, preferred color combinations, typical media, and overall compositions of Shari Abramson, Deborah Black, Priscilla Bowden, Robert Dash, Cornelia Foss, Gerson Leiber, Roy Nicholson, Ty Stroudburg, Pamela Sztybel, Jane Wilson, and Frank Wimberley? Think again, or see again, or perhaps make that, see anew. What veteran painter and curator Arlene Bujese has teased out of these well-known artists for Spanierman's knockout spring abstract landscape show constitutes not just one of the most impressive exhibits in the Hamptons, but one of the more astonishing - in that several recognizable names deliver the goods but in unanticipated ways.

"Sagg Main #1" by Robert Dash, 2007, oil on canvas, 70 x 60 inches.

The exhibit gives special meaning to the phrase, "evolving artist," especially for octogenarian Robert Dash, whose two large lyrical abstracts, "Sag Main 1" and "Sag Main 7," caused viewers at the Spanierman opening to gape. Dash, more abstract than ever, stunningly loose with large swaths of bold, concentrated color - greens in #1, yellow, muted peach tones, slips of pink in #7 and curving areas in sweeps of black. Both pictures are jaggedly set into white space. Wisely, these dramatic canvases are set inside the gallery's front room for delayed effect.

It's Jane Wilson in Spanierman's expansive window who welcomes visitors with her gorgeous "Lingering Blue, Watermill," a luminous, low-horizon oil on linen that, like "Rain, Heavy at Times," evinces a layering of contrasting pigments that pulse through the main color and pull the eye from the darker outer sections of the canvas toward the center. These Wilson works particularly exemplify Bujese's goal of wanting to have "not just a lot of horizontal blues," but a "cohesive" exhibit of individual explorations of "light, overt, covert."

The show is intelligently hung. Four Cornelia Foss still-lifes green quietly in the front room, her delicately textured "Small Garden" and "Tulips" are particularly effective in showing off a subject matter and palette that may surprise viewers who know Foss primarily from her blue-suffused seascapes. By contrast, Gerson Leiber has never seemed more colorfully intense. Set in free-form border blue, his geometric abstracts, "Spring Idyll" and "Houses of Mirth," invite comparison with the equally vibrant but earlier and impressionistic "Garden Shadows," a marvel of various-size brushstrokes and daubs all slightly angled to the right. The surprise is seeing that the styles may be different but the scene is the same.

"My Mother's Yellow Plate" by Cornelia Foss, 2007, oil on canvas,
14 x 14 inches.

Bujese has thoughtfully distributed Shari Abramson's distinctive, light-infused abstracts throughout the floor, oils of similarly sized masses of color - pale blues predominating in the de Kooning like "Spring Markings" and "When Rain Has Passed" – that are delicately accented with flecks and swirls, a surprisingly full array of color in what first appears to be a limited palette. The Wimberlys', also separated, startle in the aggregate. "Prologue", a mixed media and collage on canvas, distinct from his acrylics, shows that Wimberly is, indeed, as Bujese says, carrying on the abstract expressionist tradition. This is seen particularly in the eye-stopping ochre, olive and black "This One" but very much "going his own way," with raised canvas surfaces and a texturing technique that reveals, up close, fine-line warp-and-woof brushstrokes.

The surprise with Priscilla Bowden is that some of her acrylics on linen – especially the beautifully moody wash and dry-brush "Two Yellow Trees," with its glowing forsythia set against bare spring branches (a smaller version, slightly darker and less representational is cleverly placed nearby) - seem less Bowden-like than the later pieces on display here – "Forsythia at Maidstone Golf Course" and the sun and shadow "Sagg Pond" - where shapes of contoured color rather than lines or brushwork define form.

"An Open Field" by Ty Stroudsburg, 2007, oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches.

Deborah Black, though favoring greens and purples, signals spring with four dramatic acrylic, gouache and crayon works on paper, bluffs and trees gesturally rendered, with organizing slips of thin accent lines and surprising bits of added color showing through. Then there are Ty Stroudsburg's deep-perspective "Mustand Fields" and charming "Noyac Blooms," wisps of white floating from their pastel moorings into the sky, pieces that might be taken for later work instead of the decorative, more controlled and busier "Open Field" or "Spring Trees," but what does chronology matter if everything is so satisfyingly evocative? The three Pamela Sztybel oils on canvas, on paper and on board, also stand out, not just as misty seascapes in smoky brown, gray and white, but for the way in which the finely textured scratch marks help define the moody scene.

One of the greatest surprises in "Light of Spring," however, is the wall of Roy Nicholson's featuring several pieces from his 2007-2008 "Vernal Passage" oil on linen series. Delicately toned abstracts in pastel red, orange, yellow and light blue, these shimmering abstracts may startle those who last saw Nicholson in his striking, mysterious, dramatically exciting "Gloamings" mode. Here, all is quiet, scarlet now muted into softer hues, cascades of spring delicately arching toward pale watery centers of light.

The embarrassment of riches continues downstairs. Three fine Carol Hunt pastels with their signature small geometric flecks and streamers hovering near masses of color and line - more "Fosses", large (wonderful) and smaller florals - another Leiber, another Abramson, and comfy chairs to take it all in.

 • "Light of Spring" runs through April 21. Spanierman Gallery, LLC at East Hampton is located at 68 Newtown Lane.

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