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Denise Regan Solos With Patterns Of Light And Color

Originally Posted: July 03, 2008

Joan Baum

"Air Shine" by Denise Regan.

Amagansett - Not many weeks before the opening of "Color Drift," her knock-out new 21-painting show at the Pam Williams Gallery, Denise Regan and her husband John Picker, whose "Barber Shop" won Best Photograph in this year's Annual Guild Hall Members Show (M-Z), strolled down to the water outside their Coecles Harbor, Shelter Island home. The scene before them is not just beautiful, but inspiring. It's approximately two years since Regan first exhibited what gallery owner Pam Williams (without punning) called "watershed" new work - bigger, less decorative, more abstract, but canvases that still feature Regan's signature sea swirls of day-glo color narrowing as they moved toward a high horizon line, and tiny houses that hinted at human life near the water. Now Regan has given way wholly to the elements. Artist and landscape have become one.

A new series of oil and encaustics on canvas and linen, "Color Drift," most from 2008, evidences a freer, more tactile and more subtly complex exploration of the effect of sunlight on sea and sky. Three years earlier, when Regan and Picker moved to Shelter Island, she began to watch the water anew, intently, from dawn to dusk, noting the way the wind rippled on the surface, how, at different times of day, ribbons of bold color or sparkling shafts of white light shot across the watery blue. They reflected that at other times, the bay would take on a delicate pastel tranquility, an almost static calm - an other-world serenity. The water had moods, the way characters of old were said to have "humours," natural states that came with distinctive coloring.

"Color Drift" by Denise Regan

"Color Drift" exhibits Regan's most recent responses to the play of color and light on the water outside her home. The beautiful title work, "Color Drift," with its glowing horizontal strands slashing across the canvas in perfect color composition, vibrantly conveys a restless interplay between sea and sky. The unexpected but just right organizing gash of red in the lower right, referenced in the center of the painting and slipping over a white cloud in the upper left only hints at the build-up of layers of pigment that give the piece its marvelous churning effect.

Conversely, the quieter "Color Drift II" and the huge diptych "Pisces," with its joyous sky and translucent orange slips of fish, barely shows under-painting, and suggests by size alone what Regan has come to feel about the inseparability of the elements. In these, and other works, such as "Pond Reflection Green," where finely wrought brush strokes seem to evaporate into mist, Regan demonstrates a strategic focusing of technique that includes gouged scrapings and mysterious icons cut into the canvas - like a "private-language," Williams says. There are also gauzy pressings and streaks of concentrated pigment juxtaposed against smooth palette-knife smears - a style that gets modified from painting to painting to enhance a particular vision or to realize a particular mood.

"Pond Reflicting Green" by Denise Regan

Although "Color Drift" comprises mainly larger canvasses, Williams has also included some smaller pieces - a group of 10" x 10" highly shellacked oils, for example - "Pink Beach," "Land" and "Clouds and Surf" - and work done in 2007 that clearly shows Regan's evolution towards the more recent paintings. Squiggles and the private-language designs are more apparent in the earlier canvases, and in some pieces, such as "Sunrise Margarita," where the line between sky and sea is more discernible, the wider belts of blue, black and gold, inflected with squiggles turned rectangular, recall a still earlier Regan. In "Air Shine," however, just a year later, the diffused water spray and light are all in all, and in "Ice Blue" the color combinations have gone more pastel. Such distinctions may seem forced - but the exhibit does suggest that Regan is keeping her bolder colors as under-painting and moving towards minimalism, variations on a main color or hue. Everything, however, glows.

Both artists say that that the other's "way of looking at things" has affected what they each now do, and Picker even says that he's been getting comments on the more "painterly" qualities of some of his photographs. Certainly a bonus for those coming to the gallery will be Picker's superb catalog featuring images from his wife's show, and more, a handsome tribute and a work of art on its own (available in hard and softbound editions). He intuitively understands what her new series is about, though of course Denise Regan may by now already be moving on other currents.

 • The Pam Williams Gallery is located at 167 Main Street, Amagansett. "Color Drift" will remain on view through July 14.

All photos by John Picker

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