Paris When It Glows

American painter Rodgers Naylor’s new exhibition at Susan Calloway Fine Art here in Georgetown opened this past Saturday evening, and I was fortunate enough to attend the opening reception with a group of friends. I was impressed by Naylor’s understanding of late afternoon light, as well as his technique and use of unexpected color choices to create certain elements of his painting. The show, which runs through April 21st, is definitely worth seeing if you find yourself in the nation’s capital over the coming weeks, particularly because it looks as though most of the paintings have already sold, and will be disappearing into private collections for the next 50-odd years.

“A Journey From Paris To The South” is a collection of oils by native Washingtonian/Colorado resident Rodgers Naylor, recalling his travels through France last year. Picturing scenes from the French capital, as well as the countryside of places like Burgundy and Provence, the show is very easy to like. From the moment you approach the gallery on Wisconsin Avenue, you are put in the mood of what you are about to see by the display in the large bay window in the front of the building, which features a large canvas of Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre, alongside several smaller works.

Naylor clearly enjoys painting views of the French countryside, such a group of hay bales that look like sheep in a field, or its rolling geography – excuse me, “terroir” – from which fine French wine comes.  However he also enjoys painting Parisian cityscapes, such as the dark waters of the Seine around a sunken bridge pier, or a bistro along one of Haussmann’s boulevards opening up for that evening’s diners.  There is a variety of work on show that will appeal to any collector’s individual tastes and preferences with respect to landscape painting.

This is a good opportunity to describe how reproductions in a book, or even online, never teach us as much about a work of art as does up-close, in person examination, and why I always want to encourage my readers to go to galleries or museums and take a look at art in person, to understand and appreciate how it is made. For example in this exhibition, I was struck by Naylor’s technique with respect to how he achieves a sense of motion, which does not necessarily “read” when one is looking at one of his pictures online. In portraying a moving vehicle, Naylor paints a square of pale, almost margarine yellow, and pulls away from it, creating an impression of moving light without actually creating streaks: a quite clever and effective way of achieving this effect.

A related, unusual technique of Naylor’s is demonstrated in how he forms the branches and leaves of a tree or a vine. Most of us if asked to draw something like a shrub would probably draw some curvy, lumpy thing on a stick.  The end result would look almost inevitably more like a clump of broccoli, rather than a large plant.

Instead of painting in such a curvilinear and literal way, however, Naylor essentially paints a series of squares. He then runs these into one another to create leaves, branches, and ultimately the form of the tree, vine, etc. that he is representing. Again, this is something that one cannot appreciate in an online photograph or exhibition catalogue, but when you are able to look at the painting up close and realize how it was done, you realize that the painter has thought about how to create a realistic effect, without trying to reproduce exactly what one sees with the naked eye.

In addition, Naylor’s color choices are often very inventive indeed, and must be seen at close quarters to be understood. In painting a scene at sunset for example, he will use a rather bright purple or pink that one does not necessarily notice at first. Only on further investigation does one realize that the dark portions of his trees are full of lilac and lavender, or the corners of his buildings have fuchsia streaks along them.

And my goodness, does Naylor love light. He is particularly adept at contrasts of light and shadow in late afternoon, just before sunset, where one can “see” his use of a bright, truly cheerful use of the color orange – he even uses a rather bright orange in his signature, as one of my companions for the opening pointed out.  In his views of vineyards and fields, the various oranges employed make you want to go spend some time in the sun enjoying the harvest, or traveling along an allée of trees from one village to the next.  While on the whole I found his paintings to succeed better when the scale of the people portrayed within them were kept smaller, or more obscured, he is a man who clearly enjoys being outside in the fresh air observing both man and nature as they go about their business, and he wants others to enjoy observing this with him.

To be able to spend an evening looking at bright and cheerful pictures of Paris and the French countryside, on an otherwise gloomy and rainy evening in early Spring, was a pleasure in and of itself. Especially in his smaller paintings, Naylor evokes that sense of the personal and intimate which one finds in the smaller-scale work of artists such as Renoux, where large spaces are represented on a small scale.  In both large and small formats, he delights the eye with an explosion of cheerful color and interesting technique all his own, and hopefully my readers in the Washington area will get the chance to enjoy it for themselves.


Patrons at the opening on Friday evening