June 14, 2006

In The Gallery

The Pamela Williams Gallery

176 Main Street, Amagansett

"Denise Regan: Paintings,"

How apt that Pam Williams refers to Denise Regan's new paintings as "watershed" work, for so many are about the sea, inspired by it and reflective of its motion and moods. Even Regan's whimsical folk art birds, still lifes and Matisse-like reclining nudes seem to have taken on broader wavy strokes that suggest a new fluidity.

The artist has said as much about her bolder, simpler, more abstract direction, noting that ever since she moved to her studio home facing Coecles Harbor on Shelter Island, she has felt a new sense of excitement and a prompt to experiment. Praised for her luminous, mosaic-patterned, high-glaze dot-and-border oils, Denise Regan now seems to be moving into deeper waters. Canvases are larger, such as the back wall 96" x 78" dazzler, Ocean Magic, whose intermingled colorful swirls move from bottom to top in progressive bands of diminishing brushstroke widths, finally shortening in a dramatic compression of color at a high horizon line. So striking is this day-glo composition that Pam Williams decided to put the gallery lights on at night. The very next day, a woman came in to report that she had to stop driving to take a closer look.

But hold the generalizations. Just when you think it's safe to identify the new Denise Regan, she surprises with some instantly familiar paintings of subtly hued, nude figures lying against richly colored brocade tapestry (Sleeping Beauty, Girl on a Sofa), and some small gems, seascapes and landscapes of smooth, blended brush strokes. Yellow Tide and Beach, shrewdly placed near the door, to be seen on leaving, and Small Red Fence, with its scratchboard-like crosshatch lines, and Treeline Dawn, with its playful, Miro-like thin trails of metallic pigment, serve as reminders that in evolving, Regan casts nothing off.

As for her seeming preference for high horizon lines – big areas of wavy-line water bounded by smaller free-form areas of land and sky — Off Shore House shows that expectations can be wonderfully subverted. Here sky takes up 3/4ths of the canvas, black cloud masses loom over land and sea, while layers of under-painting ("color ghosts" she calls them) and horizontal swirls in the sky emphasize a vibrant gold sunset and the slightly off-center red-roofed small white house that sits in the middle of it all. The newer works also continue Regan's witty tradition of extending designs onto the sides of her canvasses.

The east wall of the gallery particularly impresses with its effective grouping of canvases by color — blues move to red, to yellow, to purple and show off the complexity of pigment layerings in producing an overall hue. The moody Out to Sea, though it evidences Regan's graduating wavy brushstrokes narrowing toward a high horizon, also manifests Regan use of color not only to compose but to intimate: black horizontal swirls give an impression of fish pushing through a turbulent sea, their forward motion met by black drip paint that also suggests descent into the watery deep. Strategically placed sunset pink unifies the composition, along with a select use of light-yellow horizontal wavy lines that start broad at the bottom and narrow at the horizon, the whole conveying a sense of fading sun merging with water.

In some of the more abstract works Regan seems to be playing with the idea of different styles and techniques by exhibiting all of them on one canvas. Morning Treescape, for example, intrigues with its vertical strokes of various under-painted greens, the color picked up by a lone tree that sits on the high horizon line, where daubs of green and blue wavy lines waft across a streak of yellow sunrise, as though blown from the tree.

Similarly, in Above the Dune, brushstrokes, scratches, smears, all modulate in varying degrees the pervasive yellow. Viewers who may miss Regan's more pointillistic work will not be disappointed. She shows she can do it all and as recently as last year, as in the superbly painted oil-on-linen Summer Light, its angles of intricately designed trees, water, flowers and sun-dappled ground one of the most joyous paintings in the exhibit.

"Denise Regan: Paintings" runs through June 26.

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