Elements + islands

Dennis Pinette's identity is on display at CMCA
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  November 5, 2008

art_pinette56_burning_sky-1_L.jpg
PRIMAL COMBAT: "Burning Sky #1," by Dennis Pinette.

"Dennis Pinette: Expansion of Logic" through December 20 | at Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockport | 207.236.2875
Life in a coastal Maine town brings the 19th century along with it. Those were the prosperous days, producing the best houses and the most popular local history. Dennis Pinette, who was born in the Penobscot Bay town of Belfast and lives there still, makes completely contemporary paintings whose roots extend back through those epic early days of American painting, through Winslow Homer to Albert Bierstadt to Fitz Hugh Lane and across the pond to J.M.W. Turner.

Pinette's contemporary sensibility brings him to something that is, in its own way, as epic as his antecedents. For years he has sought out the invisible things in plain view: power plants, moldering heavy equipment, and, more recently, houses on fire. In his excellent solo show at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, he has turned less to the specifics of a late industrial presence on the land and more toward the elemental character of nature.

Take, for instance, "Burning Sky #1." Dark shapes fill the bottom third of the painting, while above it clouds of smoke roil into the sky. These are rendered as dark lines and swirls of orange or white paint. It calls Turner to mind, but perhaps more accurately Melville's description of a painting (probably a Turner or a print of one) Ishmael encounters at the inn in chapter three of Moby-Dick, showing "the natural combat of four primal elements."

Pinette bears the weight of history lightly. Most of the work in this show has echoes of an earlier time, but his method and intentions are clearly informed by modernist ideas. In "Frozen Ledge #3" the sky fills nearly the whole picture. The horizon and a strip of sea with a curling breaker are fit into a narrow strip along the bottom, as is a wedge of frozen ledge coming in from the left. The pictorial organization and the color recall the reductive seascapes of William Trost Richards but without Richards's deep illusion of space. Pinette's paint sits right on top of its rag-paper support. There's no attempt to fool the eye.

Pinette may be living in a landscape that has been addressed by countless painters but he has also learned important lessons from Matisse and his descendants. The paintings are sufficiently artificial to declare their presence as the work of an individual consciousness, and yet they are also about their subject. This tension is clear in some of the smaller works like the two "Searsmont Woods, Moody Mountain" paintings. In both, a vertical jumble of slender tree trunks fills the picture from bottom to top. One has a bit of sky in the background; the other has no background at all. The illusion is convincing, but the pictorial organization recalls Jackson Pollock.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Painting, Visual Arts, Jackson Pollock,  More more >
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