I’ve always liked the way Christine Neill’s message and media reinforce one another. These paintings could be simply romantic or pretty, floating somewhere between a botanical study and a natural still life, but manage to go somewhere else. Dense with earthy color despite a liquid and washy approach, Neill’s forms hint at a natural, subconscious language. They’re not about the nature you experience when you go into the woods, rather, about what nature symbolizes. Taken out of their context and blown up, not unlike O’Keefe’s floral technique, these objects function as totem or icon and demand your attention. They don’t point to what the objects actually are or their physical structures, but to what they might mean.
Louisa Chase’s work in the Main Gallery.
You are immediately reminded of Cy Twombley when you view Louisa Chase’s ecstatic scrawls. Of course, there is only one Cy Twombley and he did it first and best; however, I get the sense that Chase is after something quite different. These works are sincere and dedicated experiments in formal color relationships. Through repeated and similar compositions, varied mainly by different colored backgrounds, you experience the artist’s thinking. As you observe her testing this color next to that one, or this color on top of that one, you realize her scientific approach is more akin to Josef Albers than Twombley, despite the expressive mark-making. Crude scribbled layers of rainbow hued oil bars should mix together to yield mud or gray, but Chase’s works retain a hi-key consistency and clarity, which is amazingly balanced. She even gets away with using black, for god’s sake, usually a dead-end for naturalistic color relationships, and uses it for contrast without muddying the scheme.
Chase speaking to several admirers.
I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of bright, loud, and luscious color. I don’t trust it – it always feels too artificial, too happy to be believed. In any observed color scheme, earthy colors and shadows set the stage for bright and intense accents. Louisa Chase turns these natural color relationships on their ass, using ONLY high key and intense color, with the occasional white thrown in, but still manages to achieve a credible balance between nature and artificiality. As if there were a mathematical aspect to her intuition, Chase layers color upon color in her quick and unselfconscious hand, clearly understanding the transient nature of color based on visual ratios. The end effect is visually dazzling, both jarring and harmonious, with odd little moments of surprise. These works are deceptively simple and, once you get beyond your Cy Twombley associations, quite satisfying, especially if you love the way your eyes feel when they’re experiencing intensely competing colors.