“No matter what her subject, whether it’s her own yard, landscapes, or those magnified close ups of the viburnum or hydrangea,” says Les Yeux du Monde Gallery Director Lyn Warren about Annie Harris Massie, “They’re all bathed in light that unifies them, abstracts them and de-materializes them.”
In addition to her virtuosity at capturing light, Massie has a particular mastery of conveying the time of year. You’d never mistake “Sycamores Above Possum Creek, Spring, Lone Jack Farm”, for anything other than a vernal scene. It’s in the lemony cast to the light, the tender salmon of the earth, and the bright dashes of green. This painting has a remarkable quality of stillness. It invites contemplation. Massie’s paintings demand that you spend time with them analyzing how she utilizes the formal elements to create the images and effects that she does. A potent spirituality runs through Massie’s work, but this piece feels like a quiet visual devotional exalting the spiritual quality of nature.
Though Massie uses a subdued palette overall, she has an eye for color. “Cobalt Crossing into the Pond,” a luminous painting of water and vegetation, is a prime example of this. You see an astonishing blue on even the muddiest of ponds on a clear day, and to recreate it on the canvas is no easy feat. The effect of the painting is placid, but the surface is enlivened with ruffling strokes of white, blue, and gray, which convey reflections and also the tremulous quality of water. Around the top edge we see reflections of trees and at the bottom, in shadow, a gestural passage of darker blues and gray squiggles. To form the twiggy bush on the left, Massie applies the paint in a complex network of strokes that vary from the sketchy lines of the outer branches to the more fully realized center ones. Thick daubs of grayish white represent the light peeping though the gaps. It’s a quiet, unprepossessing scene, but in Massie’s hands, it is elevated to something much more.
“Flattening into Bedford County, Early Fall” is a classic Piedmont vista of farmland stretching to the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. Massie constructs the background with fuzzy lines of grayish paint forming the trees that divide the ocher fields, a thin smear of spring green, the mountains bathed in haze except for two smalls points of intense blue that suggest the sun is hitting there, while smudges of clouds dapple the sky. This portion is beautifully rendered and easily overshadowed by the foreground where the stand of yellow maples catches your attention and the brushwork and color sense shine in the snarl of mauve, purple, tan, gray, and black brushstrokes of the trees below.
“Snowy View from Allied Arts Building” is an aerial cityscape of Lynchburg with a dramatically flattened perspective. In the foreground, the roofs of the buildings form a striking rhythm of rectangular and triangular planes. The snow that blankets them provides a surface for Massie to showcase her eye for light and color. Snow is a challenging and alluring subject for painters. Here the shadows are composed of shades of ecru, gray, and blue. Massie uses blue to denote not only shadows, but windows reflecting sky, with the color contributing to the overall bluish cast of the work that places it squarely in late afternoon. Again, her brushwork is dazzling, a riot of jumbled strokes that magically coalesce to form a city street and the feeling of a snowy day. They also communicate the close quarters and bustle of the urban landscape observed from a less commercial area, with the stark geometry in the foreground giving way to a densely embellished background. This pull between representational and abstract calls to mind Richard Diebenkorn’s cityscapes from the early 1960s.
“Viburnum in the Afternoon” isn’t so much a portrait of a shrub as an evocation of being in a garden. Massie places the viewer so close to the bush as to be enveloped by it. She’s showing, not telling, and it is so effective you can almost smell the heady fragrance of the blossoms. It’s a beautiful painting, its weight and presence evenly distributed across the entire canvas. The flowers are mere suggestions and read like blurred points of light. Color describes depth, and the modulating values record shifts from the shadows at the bottom to the sun-struck top. The overall scheme—basically green and white, but actually composed of a number of other hues—is broken in just a few places by the introduction of pale blue representing sky. The eye is drawn to strokes of blue and white that create several stunning passages within the work.
The experience of being outside at different times of the year and hours of the day is Massie’s focus; while she clearly has an attachment to the subjects she depicts, they are subordinate to the intangibles of light, temporality, and mood, and the purely formal considerations of painting. Her work transcends the genre of landscape and still-life painting to become something spiritual. It urges us to pause and contemplate both nature and the sublime manner in which it is being portrayed.
“Annie Harris Massie: New Paintings in Oil and Encaustic”
Les Yeux du Monde
Through December 30