Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review: New Paintings by Meera Thompson

This past Tuesday, RL and I went to an opening at the Atlantic Gallery to see an exhibition of new paintings by Meera Thompson. I've known Meera for a few years now through the library where I work, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to see her art in person. The triptych above, Suddenly, is one of the new paintings on display. All of the pictures in this exhibition are gouache, ink, and watercolor on handmade cotton paper. It is difficult to fully appreciate in digital format the strength of the works themselves. The texture of the paper, for instance, creates volumetric depth in its absorption of color, adding to a better appreciation of the tonality in the pictures. Her work is soothing, and this is reinforced by their size, designed for the domestic sphere. It would be challenging to compare them to, say, the monumental, masculinist color panels of Mark Rothko, designed for restaurants, corporate offices, and museums. Thompson instead sees her interpretation of color as evocative and sensual, and in this sense the smaller size of the pictures works beautifully.

Thompson is interested in the relationship between artist and viewer. In her artist's statement she notes, "This series of new paintings represents an endeavor to cross the divide between what the painter does and what the viewer sees--to construct a bridge that spans the painter's impulses and the viewer's responses." This conjures in my mind an image of an arched Japanese bridge stretching over a body of water, a la Claude Monet or Hiroshige, and the Japonisme reference is appropriate to Thompson's work. She is inspired in part by Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings, which have an exquisite aesthetic unto themselves, and you can see how her use of color references scroll paintings and Ukiyo-e prints. Indeed, in those works where she uses the triptych format (traditionally a Western religious art object), a Zen-like quality comes to fore, suggesting a juxtaposition of Western and Eastern spiritual philosophies. When I looked at these works in the gallery, however, I found myself thinking most about tonal poems by fin de siècle composers like Claude Debussy or Gabriel Fauré. This was especially true in the triptychs, where each work is independent but unites with its parts like movements in a concerto. This sort of tonalism harkens back to the work of the James McNeill Whistler, who titled his paintings symphonies and nocturnes, but in composition Thompson's work shares more with the tonalism of the less well known American artist, Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

Thompson's work was complemented in the gallery by an exhibition of wonderful line drawings by Jeff Miller. His portraits are skillful; he knows how to capture human form and give it personality. However, I prefer his more fluid line drawings of nudes whose attenuated bodies suggest the geometry of Paul Cézanne and the Jugendstil angst of Egon Schiele, all in a queer aesthetic that is simply a pleasure to behold. Thompson's and Miller's works are on display until June 19, at the Atlantic Gallery, 135 W. 29th St., Suite 601, in NYC.

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