Saturday, January 1st, 2005

Lois Dickson: Paintings

John Davis Gallery
330 West 38th Street, Suite 511
New York, New York 10018

January 6 – January 29

Lois Dickson paints what Cézanne called the “bones of nature.” Her primary subject matter here is bracket fungus, or asymmetrical rows of scalloped spores that grow on fallen trees, and other types of fungi with differently shaped and colored caps, gills, and stipes.

Lois Dickson Lost 2004 oil on linen, 64 x 64 inches John Davis Gallery, New York
Lois Dickson, Lost 2004 oil on linen, 64 x 64 inches John Davis Gallery, New York

“Lost,” (2004), a large square painting, is a barely contained mass of tangled brush and leaves, with the suggestion of shadowy tree trunks in the background. The wall of entangled twigs, leaves and branches boldly takes up two thirds of the canvas and the dark verticals of tree trunk are placed in the top third. The reworking of contours, based on numerous observations of photographs or actual locales, keeps the pictorial space shallow. Shapes are repeated and the linear activity spreads out towards the edges of the canvas. This diffusion of linear marks is not contained by a tight architectural structure. The interplay of many different shades of brown and green, the harmonization of mid-tomes, is wonderful to look at.

In Commencement,” (2004), we see a fine display of the artist’s preference for small to medium sized hatches. The tension between the independent life of the brushstroke and the descriptive power of the mark is never fully resolved. The small almost rectangular scribbles which form the main imagery are reminiscent of Cézanne. The artist looks at the subject and modifies the contours again and again through careful reiterations. Forms are defined by the counterbalancing of horizontal and vertical strokes of paint. We see a preponderance of dash like brushstrokes, which are almost straight lines, miraculously form into curved edges. The central fungus shape is like a diamond placed in a deep blue velvet ring box. It is articulated towards us by a structure which echoes it. In many of the canvases in this show the fungus or main focus of the composition consists of lighter and brighter hatches of color, mainly off whites, tans, ochres, and red oranges. The backdrops supporting these meaty funguses are diffuse darker tones. The artist’s fascination with these unique objects, the warts or tumors of the earth, emphasizes the humble and focused and intense task she has set herself, to make a new object that is a record of the interconnectivity between mind, hand and eyes.

The “Dunderawe” series of small paintings probably has nothing to do with the castle Dunderawe, located on the Scottish Island known as Fraoch Eilean, or Isle of Heather, but does include some beautiful paintings. The most successful paintings in this series have a thick impasto, not unlike Monet’s late water lily paintings. The crusted pigment, layers of deep violets, greens and browns, surround the pale white, orange, and yellow meat of the enthroned fungus. The busier small canvases in this series are not as impressive as the larger busy compositions, because the visible revisions and implied sense of movement through use of repetition are stunted by the format. It would be interesting to see the artist use large areas of thick impasto in larger works. Like Monet did with his water lilies, Dickson creates objects that reek of the real but inevitably affirm an abstract concept.

Lois Dickson creates interesting pictorial spaces because they are ambiguous. This is due to the mix of natural and unnatural light sources and coloration. She revisits the subject whether it’s a specific location outdoors or fungi placed on a table, over and over again, and this re-looking is the true subject matter of the work.

One wonders if a more exacting realism or a complete surrender to the abstract would push the artist in an interesting direction. Through her worship of natural forms, her ability to rediscover some new nuance every time she re-looks at her subject and her overlaying of one set of observations over another, Dickson creates a new abstract concept of the natural world.