Maxey’s sprawling landscapes; Blackburn’s altered spaces

Exteriors and interiors
By GREG COOK  |  March 21, 2012

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SWEEPING PANORAMA Maxey’s The River Dart from Redoubt Hill.

  After years of visiting her second home in her husband's native United Kingdom, Providence artist Madolin Maxey says it finally occurred to her to paint the hedgerows, rolling hills, giant boulders, and ancient stone crosses in Devon in southwestern England, where their house overlooks the River Dart as it winds northwest from the English Channel.

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NATURE’S WAY Maxey’s Rock Garden at Cherry Trees.
You can often feel the roots of early Modernist painting running through Maxey's work, from the hot colors of the Fauvists to the sweet dreams of Chagall. Her oil paintings since 2010 in the group show "Madolin Maxey & Friends: The Landscape of Friendship" at the University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus (80 Washington Street, through March 30) are probably closest to her 2006 paintings of Spain's landscapes, though those seemed more indebted to Van Gogh.

Based on sketches made in the UK and memories, then painted in her Providence studio, she seems now to be drawing inspiration from the early American Modernists. The blue-black crosses in Two Brothers bring to mind Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of stout crosses on rolling New Mexico hills. The dark boulders in Erosion: Sun and Men-An-Tol recall Marsden Hartley's late, roughhewn New England landscapes.

The main event is the 12-foot-wide canvas The River Dart from Redoubt Hill. It seems to combine Google Earth with a fisheye lens view, following a blue river as it winds past woods, hills, cultivated hills, a big palm right in the lower center, and the twinned Kingswear and Dartmouth Castles that have guarded the river for more than five centuries. "I wanted to tell you what I know is there, not what you see," Maxey tells me.

The structure of the painting comes straight out of David Hockney's panoramic 1980 painting Mulholland Drive: The Road To the Studio, with that California highway exchanged for an English river. Hockey was then exploring how Cubist techniques could combine the visual with memory, much as Maxey is talking about. At times Maxey's paintings become saccharine or the simplified trees and stones lose their specificity and become too general, like the patterns of a wild, flowery dress. But there's a thrill in sweeping panorama of The River Dart. As your eyes explore the remembered landscape as well as the square footage of the canvas, you seem to travel along the river and hills yourself.

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HOME, REMODELED Blackburn’s Feint.
When I last bumped into Jean Blackburn's work some years back, she was making sculptures freighted with knotty emotion. Template (2001) was a child's-sized rocking chair assembled from parts cut out of an adult rocking chair, which sat next to it, with the missing seat and rocker foot and spindles of the back seemingly erased. It was a charged metaphor for the relationship of parent and child, of what the parent gives the child, of what might be lost in the transaction.

The Barrington artist's new acrylic paintings in the group show "Timestamp" at the Wheeler School's Chazan Gallery (228 Angell Street, Providence, through March 29) begin as digital collages of scanned images of living rooms and bedrooms in home furnishings catalogues and interior design magazines. Things get rearranged a bit — chairs might float above a bed. Then Blackburn paints on top — a mix of hard-edged outlines and expressionist passages. The paintings don't have quite the surprise and metaphor of the transformed chairs or bed frames or floors, but you sense the same impulse to take apart the home and assemble something new from the pieces.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , University of Rhode Island, Marsden Hartley, Wheeler School,  More more >
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