Marianne Gagnier at Maurice Arlos Fine Arts
Langdon Quin at Kraushaar Gallery

Delectamenti, Uptown and Down

Here are two very different painters in quite different galleries. One is loosely representational; the other, traditional in handling and in motifs. One is uptown, one downtown, the distance between them as much a matter of style as geography. Yet both are equally satisfying for a similar reason—the simple beauty of their paint.


MARIANNE GAGNIER is an engaging gestural painter anchored to representation by a very thin, literary, thread. This is her first exhibition at Maurice Arlos Fine Art, a Tribeca gallery with an affinity for figuration that ventures outside the photo-realist cage.

Looking at the work, it seems safe to say that her attachment to landscape motifs is based largely on her own love of a certain landscape tradition without being interested, necessarily, in landscape per se. Overall, it is not the spirit of place that draws her. Her interests center on the mythopoesis that informs the landscapes of Nicholas Poussin and his friend and countryman Claude Lorrain. Both her strengths and weakness derive from her choice of antecedents.

The Last Fish, 34"x46", oil on linen, 2002

She fulfills her intentions most fully and gracefully in the apportioning of light and shade. You do best if you put aside her titles and concentrate simply on the dialect of light and shade that link these paintings to her self-chosen influences. Visual impact and surface design derive from the spatial relations between the lighter and darker areas of the canvas. They are vigorously and sensuously done. Darksome, broody passages are abruptly halted by a luscious expanse of sky. Both the clear and somber segments are built from layers of scumble and wash. As in Poussin, the lighting is not systematic. It is determined largely by inner need. Mood.

Centimeter by centimeter, it is a lovely sight.

Less convincing are some of the figures that yoke the paintings to their titles and to the mythological themes suggested by by them. A daub with wings and bow and arrow diminishes the magnitude of the classical drama, steeped in epic intention, that they refer to. Both Poussin and Lorrain were great draughtsmen. A painter claiming them as antecedents has to observe a certain caution in terms of the credibility of the marks used to indicate a human form.

In the main, Gagnier’s undefined figures are appropriate to the sweep of her brush throughout. Things flag in her use of winged figures that appear like throwaway lines, affectless and lacking in seriousness. Here, the literary source is left to carry a weight it can no longer support on canvas. Our cultural equipment does not grant plausibility to a dashed off version of a pre-modern cliché that requires reinventing to be plausible.

Gagnier is too good with the brush not to challenge her own quite evident re-creative abilities. Overall, she is a very satisfying painter.

Maurice Arlos Fine Art, 85 Franklin Street, NYC 10013


LANGDON QUIN, uptown at Kraushaar, lays in his paint with the slow deliberation of a builder. Unhurried accumulations of limpid color, married to careful drawing, lend an aristocratic calm to figures, landscape, the occasional still life. Grace notes abound.

His color sense recalls fresco cycles on church walls in the Italy that he paints with obvious love. There is no illustration here so shut your eyes and picture skies in the Magi Chapel of the Palazzo Medici. The eye of memory ascends from off-white and whispers of pale pink at the horizon, upward into atmospheric cerulean, sliding toward cobalt in the upper register.

This chromatic hint at celestial light makes magic out of very simple, homely motifs. A foretaste of paradise carries over into his own New Hampshire backyard; an abandoned mill across water from a marina; a row of hedges along a rise in autumn light. The Italian scenes—View from Mazzolla and Monte Acuto—are bathed in a golden haze that owes less to verisimilitude than to Quin’s own quickening before the view.

Several still lifes, worked in pastel, are included in the exhibition. These are the least satisfactory entries. The pastels here are accomplished but oddly lifeless. They lack the contemplative joy that is conveyed by his paint. Looking at them, I thought more of Quin’s apprenticeship at Yale to William Bailey than about Quin’s own particular gifts.

A singular exception is one small still life—two kitchen gloves, an unmatched pair, hang next to a dish cloth on a dowl. But this is an oil, not a pastel, raising the issue of what it is about the two mediums that draws from Quin such different responses. Rendering in oil, he approaches his motif lover-like. In pastel, he is a workman making a picture.

At first glance, his three-part panel, Working from Life, seems out of sync with the sensibility on view elsewhere in the gallery. But look again. There is the same control over light, more raucous this time but no less measured. There is that same diagonal slant of light that divides the picture plane into zones of brightness and coloristic hush. Dense pigment adds weight to small elements of design. Drawing is deliberate, the placement of objects just so.

But what chaos is on view! Studio clutter is everywhere. Students vie for space to work, some resorting to the floor. A couple waltz with a skeleton, a danse macabre quite suitable to a classroom with its anatomy props. Natural daylight of one panel competes against the glare of studio lights in another. Each panel has its conventional nude model but the central one is . . . a hermaphrodite?

This is the studio as theater, its productions as calculated for effect as any other staged performance. Working from Life is a sly, clever visual essay on the role of art and the process of art-making. The humor of it only partly disguised by the seductiveness of the paint.

Jacques Maritain, in his essay Art and Beauty, made the observation that "there can be no beauty unless the mind also is in some way rejoiced." It is precisely a quality of rejoicing—in things seen and things invented, in the stuff of paint, the disciplines of craft—that makes this show so satisfying.

Kraushaar Galleries, 724 Fifth Avenue, NYC 10019


Maureen Mullarkey © 2002

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