A look back

A longtime Maine artist gets a mini-retrospective
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  May 7, 2008
art_loisdodd_050908inside
“STILL LIFE”: Oil on masonite, by Lois Dodd,
1969. CREDIT Alexandre Gallery, New York

“Integrity” is the word that comes to mind while walking through the Lois Dodd show at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport. There are close to 50 paintings in the show, spanning 50 years, and all are unmistakably by no one else but Dodd. There are stylistic differences, a variety of color schemes, evidence of evolution and maturation, different subjects and methods, but all bear the stamp of a highly focused artistic identity and pictorial intelligence.

These are mostly smaller paintings, two feet square or less. Dodd seems to choose her subjects as a foundation for her pictorial interests, developing the ideas as she works. There are figures, windows, buildings, flowers and plants, a rock crusher, a cow or two, and even the back end of a rhinoceros. In each, the subject is a reason for color and paint, and the action of painting turns into a resolution of form. You can see the process happening as her instinctive decisions create a distinctive coherence that is particular to each work. They hang together, each in its own way.

In “Three Figures on Red-Orange Background,” from 1966, the figures are blocked out with broad highlights and shade while the background is filled with the titular red-orange. The picture is anchored by a light green shape in the upper corner and a larger blue shape under two of the figures. There is very little detail, but the figures hold their space convincingly even as the overall feeling of the painting is flat.

“Lois Dodd: Directly Considered” at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 162 Russell Ave, Rockport | through July 19 | 207.236.2875
This is a modernist construction that recognizes the reality of the flatness of the painting while resolving the contradiction between the plane of the picture and the illusion of pictorial space. It’s a question that was first discerned by Matisse and was articulated again and again in the paintings of Fairfield Porter.

Dodd seems to arrive at this resolution without any the signs of struggle that permeated Porter’s work, but this may be an illusion. I suspect she works pretty hard at it but doesn’t let it show.

In an entirely different painting, “Forsythia,” from 1979, most of the picture is filled with streaks of the yellow-green color we see so much in Maine in the spring. The streaks spread out like fireworks over base notes of dark lines representing the plant’s woody stems. It’s an all-over pattern, sparkling and direct. Once again she arrives at coherence that appears inevitable, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to cover a masonite panel with little slashes of colored paint and come up with a completely believable picture.

In a lot of years of looking at Dodd’s paintings I’ve never seen a self-portrait, yet here is one, and in a top hat, no less. With subtle, wry irony she reveals a little of herself in the uniform of a magician, ready to perform her sleight of hand. There is magic indeed in the way she makes her work seem so effortless, as if the paintings happened of their own accord.

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