Gallery walks: Challenges in balancing light and shadow

Thursday July 26, 2012

LENOX -- Got art? Lenox does, and it makes sense to coordinate a visit with the annual Lucy MacGillis show at the Hoadley Gallery. These exhibits have become the main event for the local visual arts.

A Berkshire native now residing in Umbria, Italy, MacGillis returns each year with a gallery full of recent paintings. Her still lifes, domestic interiors and landscapes narrate the rural life of the Italian countryside -- her adopted world.

This young artist is capable of conjuring a magical balance of palette, light, texture and subject. When I think of MacGillis, her skewed views of luminous lemons resting on rumpled fabric come to mind. Those airy quartets of yellow, blue and white stripes and earth tones capture the sun and stucco of Italy like a firefly in a jar. Work like this woos collectors.

But that delicate equilibrium is disrupted in her current pieces, especially her mainstay still lifes. Previously, MacGillis stroked her subjects with a slow and gentle brush, caressing their quaintness with visible affection. Now compositions are either thrown together with strident brushwork or painted with a heavy hand and leaden colors. This approach undermines the inherent beauty and tranquility of her subjects, sadly compromising their appeal.

Another marked change is the introduction of figures in her pieces, which include two large canvases of a woman reading and a reclining nude. Successful figure painting demands years of experience. While a misshapen tree or vase is easily overlooked, a poorly structured arm or face sends up flares. Unfortunately, I found Mac Gillis's efforts to be so unpracticed that they were difficult to look at.

I also had difficulty with the gratuitous insertion of smaller figures in other paintings. Their presence simply seemed unwarranted. Placing people in an interior or landscape tends to transform the scene into a backdrop for a narrative. MacGillis is not a narrative painter, and these errant figures robbed the element of timelessness from otherwise workable compositions.

MacGillis has genuine ability -- she's proved that. While young painters love to experiment, experiments aren't always a success. For gallery artists, the best gauge is the public's response.


While in Lenox, stop by the Wit Galley at 27 Church St., where intriguing images and objects abound. Paul Cho j nowski deftly uses a welding torch to convert paper into imbedded charcoal drawings of cityscapes. These works command attention, first for their imagery, then for their process. Those intense city lights are amazingly mesmerizing.

Also in the gallery, art glass by Gartner and Blade resembles sacred vessels retrieved from a fantastical world. Like a postmodern Daumier, Yael Erlich man produces absolutely en grossing bronze caricatures. Though poorly displayed in back, Joe Goodwin's three paintings are masterful. I'm not alone in hailing Goodwin as the region's best non-representational artist, and "Tiepolo" is a classic example of his work.


Stepping into 62 Church St., you'll find the strikingly animated bronze figures of Andrew DeVries. "La Chan teuse" especially caught my eye. His style varies greatly, ranging from realism to pieces flirting with abstraction like "Berkshire Angel." My favorite work? "Chariot" tops my must-see list.

Shade Gallery @ The Book store, 11 Housatonic St., presents "Kindle-Ing," where 25 regional artists look at the changing concept of the book. Some of the pieces are simply too easy or obvious for me to seriously appreciate them, but others offer thought-provoking commentaries on our times. It's an interesting, small exhibit.

More art destinations garnish Lenox, and if your time is more generous than my space, by all means -- explore.


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