Hardy Plumbing
May 17, 2006

In The Gallery

Independent / Kevin Ryan Icy Light by Jane Wilson, on view at The Drawing Room in East Hampton. (click for larger version)
The Drawing Room,

16R Newtown Lane, East Hampton

"Jane Wilson: Recent Watercolors and Oils"

It's not unlikely that gallery owners Emily Goldstein and Victoria Munroe may be asked why The Drawing Room, a lovely space specializing in historic works on paper, is opening the new season with contemporary painting. In fact, the operative word in the gallery's name, the owners point out, is "room," as in salon, a place to which those interested in art and literature might withdraw to talk about intellectual matters. In addition, The Drawing Room's mission, to encourage "dialogue across disciplines and media," has always been in some way addressed by juxtaposing the old with the new, delicate 18th century prints and mixed-media wall installations. The current exhibition, containing many 8" x 8" works on paper, could be said to continue this tradition by presenting the recent watercolors and oils of an octogenarian who has already made her reputation in art history.

A 13-page resume lists Jane Wilson's solo and group exhibitions, awards, faculty positions, works in public and private collections, catalogues and appreciative articles about her by some of the most illustrious names in the art field. What's amazing is how she keeps going. "Jane Wilson: Recent Watercolors and Oils," with one or two exceptions (these dating to 1998), reflects work done over the last two years, much of it limited palette, low-horizon fields and big skies, inspired, she says, by local observation (she has had a studio in Water Mill since 1957) and memory.

But don't try to identify place in these semi-abstract paintings. They are, she says, as much the product of her "inner eye" as what external surroundings may prompt. She's "always surprised" by what happens as she paints, she said, but serendipity coexists with a lifetime of refining various techniques and styles. What has remained constant is her subtle use of color. On close inspection, the smaller gems — the preponderance of the works in this show — reveal an astonishing interaction of blue, green, violet, white, and degrees of each of these. Multiple-layer brush strokes make it impossible gauge the number or sequence of applications. And then there are those distinctive, sweeping, multi-hued, often agitated, skies — Hurricane, Storm Warning, Rain, Heavy at Times, Darkness Falling.

Another distinguishing feature is the prevalence of low-lying ground in a different color from the sky that stretches across the canvas. The contrasting hue lives almost imperceptibly in the sky's basic color realm, softening the division between them. Such compositions suggest that sun, rain and clouds are at the start or end of their influence —that the world of Jane Wilson is one of becoming or concluding (morning, twilight, before or after a storm).

It may seem odd that some abstracts identify a specific time of day, season, weather condition, but a typical Jane Wilson painting invites expressions of paradox: dramatic tranquility, restricted expansiveness, blurry distinctions, eternal particularities. Though her skies and ground are delineated, no firm horizon line can be traced. Is that luminous yellow-green bottom edge in Icy Light coming from land or sea? How can that be January Chill when the eye is drawn immediately to the warm rosy beige center? And how does she get a viewer to drop the temperature in Hazy Chill, for example, with its faint salmon color in a joyous blue sky, once the eye belatedly takes in the title and then the dark strand that stretches across the top of the picture? Ironically, one of the coldest pictures in the show is A Day in April, 2005 because of the interplay of a moisture-laden yellow sky streaked with lavender grays that's set against a verdant green below.

"Jane Wilson: Recent Watercolors and Oils" contains just a few oil paintings, larger and less luminous than the watercolors. Though they may "flesh out the investigation of light," as distinct from the watercolors that "show more of process," as Emily Goldstein suggests, it's those wonderful watercolors that yield a sense of wonder. The show runs through May 29.

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