Hardy Plumbing
July 05, 2006

In The Gallery

Maria Schön: Landscapes and Memories: New Paintings

Solar, 44 Davids Lane

East Hampton

With galleries opening and closing, changing sites and directions, it's sometimes difficult for an art space to achieve and secure identity, but Solar, in its second season back in East Hampton, is managing the challenge in two important ways: by continuing to show artists of Latin American extraction and by moving to broaden its presence in the community with art-related activities.

The current exhibit realizes both intentions. Maria Schön, who has been at Solar before, is represented now with a one-woman show that includes not only her recent, strikingly bold oil paintings — "Landscapes and Memories" — but also several restricted-hue pencil-and-charcoal archival prints — "Tropical Elements" — both media further defining Schön's signature style of large, sensual rounded shapes in contrast with spiky flora forms. Not quite representational, not quite abstract. "Imaginary landscapes" gallery owner Esperanza León calls the paintings, each named after a particular South American city.

Schön, who lives and works in Sagaponack, was born and trained in the U.S. but draws on her Venezuelan heritage, inspired by its ocean, sky, mountains and vegetation, four "compositional elements" that appear as recognizable tropical forms and atmospheres but also, mysteriously, as symbolic, even surreal shapes (the artist uses the word "primordial").

On Saturday, the paintings will be the subject of a discussion, led by the well-known colorist Berenice D'Vorzon when the downstairs gallery ("my cave," Esperanza León jokes) becomes a salon of sorts, an intimate space where artists and local art lovers can get together to exchange ideas about the creative process. "Art should be accessible," she says, but it should also invite "intellectual" response. It is her hope that such gatherings become a well-established feature in the area and lead to greater appreciation of artistic purpose and more informed critical response. Meanwhile, on her own, on Solar's walls, Maria Schön speaks through her vivid, textured and luminous work.

Solar's placement of the paintings and drawings encourages comparison. Prints of originals done 1999 - 2001 reveal on close inspection the artist's technique of continual rubbing and scraping of pencil and charcoal into subtle tones of black, gray and sepia, generating a pattern of textured lace. The shapes are distinctively Schön — large, mounded, intersecting protuberances, some of them suggestive of moonscapes or light-inflected coral — and are repeated in the paintings.

The composition of each work decided exhibition sequence. The gallery winds around two corners, revealing paintings (and drawings) two or three to a wall. The arrangement is surprisingly appropriate, for Maria Schön is best seen in controlled viewing. At first and from a distance, her paintings may shock with their audacious sensual shapes and brash colors.

In Iguapó, a huge mound of orange shares space with yellow-edged lime-green plant spears; in Tanaguarena the orange-brown desert dips like the sea and ripples across the width of the canvas, moving from sunset dark to dying light, in stark contrast to bold green vegetation at the bottom of the canvas. Up close, another Schön seems to emerge: smooth-layered applications of pigment disclosing distinct brushwork paralleling the curved masses. In Chichiriviche, for example, a wavy, sea-like composition of converging mountain shapes in various shades of greens and blues, an intricate patterning of thin, white scratch-out marks lightens the effect of the large, dense solids.

Though most of the seven paintings on show were done in the last year or two, they may all reflect to some degree a juxtaposition of ominous and peaceful, particularly felt in Gañango, done in 2001. With its thrusting bomb-like avocado head jutting into a blue sky, its spiky plants below intent on devouring, the piece seems darkly evocative of 9/11. And yet, even here and in the works that follow, nature prevails.

The exhibit runs through July 24. For reservations to the discussion led by Berenice D'Vorzon on Saturday at 4 p.m., call 907-8422.

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