Last Friday some friends and I attended the opening of a new exhibition of local plein air landscapes by a local artist, held at a local art gallery. In thinking about how I would review some of the pieces in this show, the thought occurred that perhaps this subject matter was TOO local. Most of my readers will only be able to see these works through online electronic reproductions, and not in person. Yet I find something rather pleasing about the idea of using media with a global reach to help local, traditional media gain a wider audience, and therefore, if the reader will indulge me, we shall press on.
Although I do not get there as often as I would like, the Susan Calloway Fine Arts gallery is just up the street in my neighborhood. I try to attend openings there when I can, because over time I have come to appreciate the owner’s good taste. For that matter, I have also come to appreciate her understanding of the taste of her neighbors, in what we locals often call “the village”. This may seem a distinction without a difference but in the art trade, I assure you, it is an important one to draw, if you are going to be successful. One does not sell Limoges at Jonathan Adler.
Artist Ed Cooper travels a great deal in search of inspiration for his paintings, but for this particular exhibition he focused in on what we will loosely refer to as “local” landscapes, i.e., the nearby Shenandoah Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, where many Washingtonians like to go go on the weekends or have vacation homes. The show consists of a collection of small and large oils, but I particularly want to focus on a couple of the large-scale paintings in the exhibition, which in terms of composition and use of color were real standouts.
“September Sunrise” shows the sun coming up over a wide stretch of wetlands, just at that moment when it first appears over the horizon. Although you can see the work in the online exhibition catalogue, the painting is very large, so the full effect of standing before it is lost in a photographic reproduction. The golden, egg yolk yellow of the rising sun is enthralling, and the color practically beams out of the picture into your eyes, temporarily blinding them and transfixing you on the spot. Mr. Cooper also has a lovely understanding of the play of light atop the different pools of the water surrounding the reeds, where those closer to the sun bear slashes of gold, and those closer to the viewer consist of murky purples and greens.
The painting “Awe-Inspiring Tranquility” has a cumbersome title, but one forgets that rather quickly after thinking about how seemingly simple it appears at first, yet how complex it is as one thinks about it further. Again, this is a very large piece, and the impact of standing in front of it is lost in opening a JPEG file, even though one can clearly get the sense from the reproduction of standing on a shoreline, or perhaps sitting in a boat, looking across the still water to the opposite shore. However it is only when you stand back, and stop focusing directly on the painting, that one realizes what a good sense of color and composition went into this work.
There are very few colors in this painting at all, in fact. Most of the picture is composed of shades of blue and gray, darkened here, lightened there, with some French vanilla in the sky to suggest the sun trying to emerge through the clouds. The single bit of bold color combination is the ochre and brown line that cuts in jaggedly from the left, almost 2/3 of the way down the painting, to suggest the opposite shore line; this gash tapers away into nothing before just starting to emerge again as it exits the right side of the image. It is a scene both pleasingly representational and cleverly abstract, which anyone who has spent time on or near a body of water knows can often happen when light plays tricks on one’s eyes.
“New Landscapes: Scenes from the Shenandoah to the Chesapeake” by Ed Cooper opened January 17th at Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown, and runs until February 15th.