Portraiture and landscapes—as genres—seem to provide an endless fascination for artists of all stripes. Certainly the seven artists that form the Hill Center’s current multi-artist exhibition would agree. Arranged as a series of vignettes across the building’s three floors, the works of Nita Adams, Jay Coleman, Chanel Compton, Spencer Dormitzer, Lesley Giles, Luis Peralta Del Valle and Carol Phifer all fall into one of these two categories. Of the two genres, the landscapes presented here provide more food for thought, with one artist in particular testing the very notions of how landscapes ought to behave.
The portraitists take up the Center’s first floor with a vignette titled Faces. Chanel Compton presents a variety of mixed-media pieces that blend traditional oils with layers of material built upon the underlying canvas, suggesting layers of memory that ebb and flow over time. The most effective (in form) of these works is I Miss You, which presents a portrait that seems to disintegrate before our very eyes, signifying the loss of someone she holds dear. Jay Coleman paints with oils and acrylics in a more traditional manner, displaying vastly different approaches to portraiture ranging from realistic figuration in Obama Speaks to the World to Futurism in Community the Cosmos. Luis Peralta Del Valle’s works, painted with the desire to create an uplifting message, feel fairly one-dimensional and are upstaged by the somber faces of Coleman’s Endangered Youth exhibited nearby.
If the portraitists are fairly uniform in the way they capture their sitters’ sidelong gaze, the four artists delving into landscapes present a more diverse, edifying way of experiencing the world around us. On the building’s ground floor you’ll find Carol Phifer’s vignette Gather In, featuring vibrantly colored pastoral scenes. Though the works are oils, they appear almost pastel-like in texture. This is apropos given that the artist initially sketches with pastels and then mixes a “fine-grain sanded medium” into her oils, mimicking the texture of chalk. While several of her paintings place barns or other structures in the foreground, works such as Across Time and Meadow where natural vegetation is front and center really captivate the eye. Just two floors up but a biome away, Nita Adam’s forest landscapes in Song of the Earth present a nice contrast with their more traditional color palette and texture. Where Phifer uses color to pull the viewer in, Adams prefers more nuanced layers that soften towards abstraction as the forest deepens.
Leslie Giles’ Around the Water’s Edge moves from the central plains to America’s coasts, capturing the hazy days of summer by the ocean. Shades of blue play a prominent role on the canvas, but hues of yellow, ochre and pink recall the heat of summer without the nagging humidity. While works such as Breeze, Hoopers Island evoke Edward Hopper (whom she credits as an inspiration) and she even takes a few stabs at Cubism, the most vivacious are works are those that capture the playful, leisurely properties of life by the sea.
Spencer Dormitzer’s This Ellipsis.. That Ellipsis.. These Ellipses.. Those Ellipses.. rounds out the ensemble with austere, minimalist works that focus our attention on vaguely geometric shapes featuring curious cut-outs. From a distance the shapes (rendered chiefly in shades of black and dark blue) appear as solid masses; step closer and the forms dissolve before your very eyes. What first appears as solid paint is actually hand-drawn lines composed of archival inks. Dormitzer’s compulsive mark-making takes on a woven texture of a sorts, with “threads” seemingly fraying both at the outer edges as well as along those inner voids. The artist’s somewhat obsessive tenacity to capture detail upends our notions of landscape, shifting the focus to the emotional terrain inside our heads rather than the world outside our skin.
The Hill Center’s current multi-artist exhibition runs through June 26, 2016. For more information, visit the Center’s website here.
Editor’s note: An earlier edition of this article incorrectly attributed the painting “Endangered Youth” to Luis Peralta. The work is by Jay Coleman, and the article has been updated to reflect this change.