Alexandre Gallery: Lois Dodd    
Sept 9 - October 30, 2021     back

Lois Dodd

Open Door, Pink and Green
oil on linen
50 x 36 in.


Virtues, in Painting and in Life

Generosity of spirit and curiosity about our world must surely rate high among virtues, and for decades we’ve known we can count on an abundance of both in the work of Lois Dodd. Art movements have come and gone, but few painters have so steadily shared a delight in the oddities of the observed: in Dodd’s case, of cows, tenements, barns, interiors, blossoms, ponds, the occasional model – whatever came before her deftly abstracting eye.

The nearly 30 paintings inaugurating Alexandre Gallery’s new Grand Street space span a full sixty years, tempting one to look for evolutions of approach. The forms in an early cow painting are certainly looser and chunkier; works from the following decades more geometric in their attack. Are the last several paintings more complexly atmospheric? Possibly. Most pervasive, though, is the artist’s determination to respond, each time, to the light-inflected forms at hand.

As Dodd repeatedly shows us, contradictions of light will bring out deeper truths. The rather austerely composed “House + Barn” (1966) could be a primer on the animating powers of light. Colors, in life as well as on an artist’s palette, will tend to shift against each other, often in ways defying spatial logic. In this small, early painting, sensations of light anchor its two largest elements: at left, the white blaze of a house’s side; at right the deeply shadowed reddish-brown of a barn. Strategic details – a thin piece of sunlit trim on the darkened barn, a portion of the house’s window blind turned to shadow – consolidate our impression of light, and a spectacle coalesces: two buildings, at once so similar and so different, conversing across a channel of shifting facets of grass and foliage. Why was a barn built upon this spot? We can guess, but now we know how it occupies it.

Two larger, vertical paintings explore the paradoxical intersections of indoor and outdoor spaces. The leftmost third of “Open Door, Pink and Green” (1982) is a blaze of sunlit grass and white wall, as viewed through an open door. The remaining two-thirds show the door itself, shadowed except for its upper portion, where two reflecting panes of glass insert concise sections of the exuberant outdoors into the dark interior. By contrast, the outdoors in “Sun in Hallway” (1978) can only be viewed, dimly, at the end of a long hall, paced by the many intricate verticals of doorway moldings. Yet daylight intrudes, indirectly, in crisp streams of sunlight cast by unseen windows.

Some paintings, filled by a single window or building façade, are arguably less compelling in composition. But the five-foot-tall “Blue Laundry and Birches” (1979) is especially impressive. Here, a staccato sequence at the canvas’ lower edge – sunlit ground pulsing behind shadowed items of laundry – releases into multiply rising trees that intertwine and thicken, far above. The artist drastically updates the motif in a small panel from 1981, in which two red drapes, drooping on a clothesline, deliciously set off a wall of trees, their silhouettes dipping and gathering in response.

Particularly intriguing are several small panels from recent years. In these, the artist seems less intent on imposing order at the outset, and more inclined to watch it emerge in blending notes of color. “The Field Cushing” (2020) locates a complex set of near-horizontals – tree canopies, divisions of the ground plane, distant mountains – at various levels above and below one’s point of view. Tying them together, before and behind, is an intricate dance of tree trunks. Colors impart weight to fields, depth to canopies, and distance to sky. One imagines an artist so at ease with nature, and paint, that the two practically nudge each other towards resolution.

Best of all may be “View Off of Back Deck” (2018), in which every element seems lifted to its own perfect pitch. Muted colors capture a specific moment – the light of early dusk, perhaps, or of the sun struggling to emerge after a storm. Three stacked elements fill most of the panel’s surface. While close in tone, their hues conjure very different sensations: heavy sky, soft glow of grass, dully reflective decking. Together they measure out the vertical stretch of a wall hugging the panel’s edge.

The strongest note, however, is a fourth band dividing field and sky; it’s distant and compact, yet full of movement. Trees, bare and leafy, spring from the ground amidst bushes and a single large boulder. A particularly large tree blossoms as a ball of reddish orange, its distant form tickling the contours of the up-close wall. Large, small, close, far – everything counts, in the visual kind of storytelling unique to painting. It takes generosity and curiosity to produce such a vision, but we must add other virtues too: intensity, insight, and devotion.

Alexandre Gallery
261 Grand Street, New york NY 1001
127 South 16th St, Philadelphia PA
212.755.2828 · www.alexandregallery.com