Below the surface: ‘Visions for 2016’ is a meditation on abstraction

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J.M. Henry, "Aqueduct," 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50  is part of the “Visions for 2016” exhibition on view at Les Yeux du Monde through March 6. Image: Courtesy the artist J.M. Henry, “Aqueduct,” 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 is part of the “Visions for 2016” exhibition on view at Les Yeux du Monde through March 6. Image: Courtesy the artist

Janet Bruce’s “Shorelines” paintings sneak up on you. Standing in front of them, you see them come alive, as things you didn’t notice at first become apparent.

She builds up surfaces with many layers of paint, adding texture and visual interest, as glimpses of the various undercoats are visible.

In some, she adds animated squiggles of oil stick. These marks have an almost casual quality, but also complete assuredness. There’s a fearlessness to her approach.

In 2013, she moved to New York from Virginia, trading in a familiar landscape for something completely different, which is reflected in her work. “In New York, I had moved from the space of mountains and clouds to the seashore,” she says. “The question now was how do I transform perceptions to essences with abstraction? To return the paintings to a realm of their own.”

Bruce joins artists J. M. Henry, Deborah Kahn and Martha Saunders in the exhibit “Visions for 2016,” on display now at Les Yeux du Monde.

“This show took a long time to percolate,” says Lyn Warren of Les Yeux du Monde. “I like all these artists individually and think they all have very distinct styles, but I also feel they work well together because of the way they treat their surfaces.”

Henry’s minimalist landscapes are lovely meditations on color and paint. His large canvases feature an anodyne smoothness bisected by slashes of pigment into which he manages to invest enormous visual interest. Although the black mats with title and signature used on his smaller oils are distracting, the paintings’ evocation of J. M. W. Turner’s atmospheric studies still shine through.

Throughout, the low horizon line imparts a contemplative quality. “With the landscapes in the current show, I was transitioning from oil paint to acrylics, and experimenting with translucency by adding various materials to the paint,” says Henry. “As with all of my work, I am primarily interested in color, and by returning to a familiar (landscape) format I can better gauge the effects I am creating.”

Kahn is the only artist of the four to incorporate figures in her work. They’re highly stylized, not fully realized, of uncertain age and sex, and arranged in space or within the suggestion of a room.

Intentionally enigmatic, Kahn uses her figures to strike emotional chords with the viewer, creating feeling through form.

“For me, form is created through space,” says Kahn. “Space in painting is complicated, but tension in forms create space. A painting is complete when forms contain contradictions: Figures are separate yet one; forms appear masculine and feminine; figures are moving and still. The contradictions signify simultaneous conflicting feelings.”

Kahn refers to herself as a colorist, and her sophisticated palette has the curious quality of being both rich and subdued. She builds up her surface, carefully modulating the color to create varying tonalities.

Saunders’ lyrical paintings seem to speak of both macro and micro worlds. “Dissolving,” a mysterious vision of line, volume and light, could be either celestial or cellular. She is interested in the physical world, relying on both scientific data and personal observations to create her poetic responses. Her encaustic paintings feature wonderfully inventive patterns, translucent and opaque areas and a muted palette of grays, mauves and browns that seems to suggest a primordial, elemental color scheme.

“When I’m working I am interested in describing states of matter if things are solid or not,” she says. “They’re pictorial, but I hope that I convey the physicality and the energy. I think people get the sense that the material (the wax) itself can change. I’m trying to create fields that are pushing at each other within the composition, trying to get the fields to interact in the right proportions.”

Surface is certainly one of the unifying elements in “Visions for 2016,” but all of the work shares a meditative, transcendent quality. Verging on abstraction, the paintings invite introspection while providing a means for the artists to explore their media in highly personal ways.

Janet Bruce’s “Shorelines: Lakeside Littoral” is part of the “Visions for 2016” exhibition on view at Les Yeux du Monde through March 6. Image: Courtesy the artist

Visions for 2016

Les Yeux du Monde

Through March 6

–Sarah Sargent