at Fischbach Gallery
In the nearly fifty years Lois Dodd has been exhibitingtwenty
of them at Fischbachshe has avoided subject matter that
might be isolated by the label "feminine." No children,
no still lives, no interiors of the Architectural Digest
[italics] variety, no pretty floral arrangements. She
has taken her Modernist convictions into the Maine woods and
into the open hills of the Delaware Water Gap but hardly into
the confined world of gardens. So it is that this months
show of gardenscapes comes as both a surprise and a pleasure.
Dodd is a reticent painter who maintains a certain modesty
toward her subjects. Her work has never relied on bravura.
She spends no effort trying to bloat a motif beyond its natural
This is not to say that she does not exploit the potentials
of scale. She certainly does. (Each of the large paintings
in this show were worked up from small panel studies.) But
she works always as a painter, never as a rhetorician
or an advocate for anything beyond the work itself. She does
not argue; she simply presents. In Dodds work, there
is only the act of seeing made palpable through love of craft.
In the hands of a gifted painter, that is largeand enlargingenough.
By nature, all works of art are fictions. Dodds garden
pieces are not reports on botanical reality. They owe nothing
to the photograph but everything to Dodds characteristic
This is not work for logo-lovers seeking the assurances
of a a specified style. Styles come and go. Dodd is too far
down her own path to worry about where the cat will jump next.
In the 50s, the high tide of Abstract Expressionism,
Dodd began establishing a vantage point from which to turn
a modern eye on visual motifs. It is no small thing to have
stayed true to both the formal concerns of that period and
her own love of representation.
In this exhibition, formal arrangements and stylizations
suit a sense of play and design that is unconcernedly hedonistic.
Dodds pleasure in her medium is as evident as her pleasure
in the colorsgreat scoops of purple, fuschia, cinnabar
greenthat come to life and draw breath in flower beds.
Dodds idiosyncratic realism is deeply infused with
expressionist brio. Two small paintings of red tulips display
a whimsical unconcern with the assumptions of the likely viewer.
The point here is to convey the shock of first bloom. We are
jolted with unmodulated reds, simple shapes of pure cadmium
lined up like soldiers. They spring forward from a field of
bright greens and hang on to the front of the picture plane.
This is the aggression of life that appears as if from nowhere
before we are even aware that the growing season has begun.
Bees are all over Dodds canvases just as they are
in real gardens. They nod slyly to the insects in seventeenth-century
Dutch still lives. But those precise, delicate symbols of
transience would have a hard time recognizing themselves,
or their thematic mission, in these disarming whirs of black
paint. That they are major players is evident in the titles:
Echinacea, Cow Flower and Bee; Black Hollyhock and Bee.
Bees cavort like goats under cone flowers and through the
alizarin stamens of Joe Pye Weed. One does a capriole over
the prickly purple cannon balls that shoot skyward in Globe
Thistle. There goes another, straight into the fretted
blooms of a cow parsnip. One more holds the viewers
nose at its mercy.
More than humor is at work here. There is also a reluctance
to indulge in any lingering cultural temptation to emblematize
the natural world. No one could spend much time consulting
the Bible of Creation through Dodds eyes. Readers of
the Book of Nature would be hard-pressed by that ultramarine
triangle hovering over the creamy blonde surface of Cow
Parsnip and Butterfly.
The moralization of flowers, that was once part of the general
moralization of nature and the raison detre of
historical flower painting, is forestalled by the kinds of
flowers featured here: huge weeds (cow parsnips, Joe Pye,
thistles) and the common cone flower, cousin to the daisy.
Hardly useful as emblems of the vanity of earthly riches.
Nevertheless, in their unstudied, quirky beauty, the products
of Dodds pictorial wit are themselves a godsend.
Viewers come away from these paintings with a renewed sense
of what she shares with Milton Avery, another Modernist who
refused to relinquish representation. They have in common
an untroubled clarity and directness, a confident sense of
form with nothing arbitrary about it. Her garden paintings
create the impression that this multum in parvo [italics]
has been abstracted from observation. They look simultaneously
improvised and observed. The result is a garden world both
magical and reasonable, much nearer light verse than material
Until the end of the month, we have on view something of what
poet Louise Bogan was referring to in her lovely line: "Thank
heaven for art that has nothing to prove."