Retrospective of ‘one serious painter’ also has the flavor of modernism - Kansas City, MO
Lois Dodd exhibit at the Kemper: ‘All it is, is what I saw’
Retrospective of ‘one serious painter’ also has the flavor of modernism. [[ see photo ]]
By ALICE THORSON
The Kansas City Star
Coming on the heels of a permanent collection exhibit that occupied the Kemper Museum’s main gallery for nearly seven months, “Lois Dodd: Catching the Light” does not exactly set the place on fire.
Dodd, a New Jersey native who has long divided her time between New York and Maine, is a painter of modest reputation and vision, whose views of her chosen locales mix modernism with a commitment to observation.
The results are individualistic, but not innovative.
Yet Dodd obviously has a fan in former New Englander Barbara O’Brien, a curator who was recently named the Kemper’s director. O’Brien flew her East Coast colors last summer with an exhibit of Connecticut-based Eric Forstmann’s work.
Forstmann’s was a small show. Dodd’s, with more than 50 paintings, is a blowout, and one perhaps better aimed at the audience in Portland, Maine, where this exhibit makes its second stop.
Dodd’s work is a good fit with the Kemper’s permanent collection, which includes works by many of her better-known colleagues, including Philip Pearlstein and Alex Katz.
After attending Cooper Union from 1945-48, Dodd worked with Pearlstein in the 1950s as part of a group of artists that established the cooperative Tanager Gallery in New York City.
For many summers, she shared a house in Maine with Katz, one of a number of loyal Dodd followers who contributed short essays to the exhibition catalog.
Katz pronounced the work “open, fresh and direct,” and labeled Dodd “one serious painter.”
Spanning six decades, the Kemper retrospective establishes that fact with exhaustive thoroughness. Like most artists, Dodd had her good and bad cycles. Her earliest works, including the rolling, flattened “Cows in Landscape” (1958), and the gestural landscapes “Brook” (1961) and “Apple Tree” (1964) reflect the influence of abstract expressionism. As the ’60s came to a close, Dodd’s compositions settled down, exchanging gestural animation for the truth of observation.
“I never became an abstract painter,” she said. “I loved to look at abstract expressionism, but I couldn’t tear myself away from observation.”
Starting out, Dodd would make drawings of what she saw and create paintings based on them in her studio, but in Maine, she began painting en plein air. The immediacy of the plein air approach suited her commitment to, as she puts it, “the facts as I saw them.”
In the late 1960s, Dodd did a series of paintings of the interior of her New York studio, including “Loft View.” At a mere 18 by 15 inches, it’s a little jewel of a work, featuring a painterly rendition of an easy chair in the foreground, and a view through a passageway lined with books behind it. But the focal point of the composition is a red curtain that forms a wavy red stripe within a doorway in the background.
For Dodd, this is an unusually inviting painting — partly it’s that empty chair, partly it’s the undulating brushwork. But with its gentle recession in space, the work is also structured in such a way that the viewer feels welcomed into her quiet abode.
In “Loft Interior” (1968), the edges are much crisper, and the emphasis shifts to geometry as Dodd sets out the multitude of rectangular shapes — doorways, windows, a table and stairs — that define the room. Amid all these right angles, her inclusion of an oval mirror and a curving radiator feels downright subversive.
Many of the paintings in this exhibit feature views through windows, a subject that enabled Dodd to continue her on-the-spot observation when the weather was inhospitable.
From 1967-68, she made two paintings of a men’s shelter visible through her New York window. Both hark to the boxy geometries of 1920s precisionism and include parts of the window frame itself in the composition. The Kemper acquired the larger one for its permanent collection.
Dodd also painted window views in Maine, producing works like “Self-Portrait in Green Window” (1971) and “View of Neighbor’s House in Winter”(1977-78).
The most striking piece from this series is “Night Window — Red Curtain” (1972). Here, Dodd’s penchant for ordinariness takes a pop art turn. The starkness and contrast of the bright red curtains against a white window frame and wall bring the works of Wayne Thiebaud and Roy Lichtenstein to mind.
Dodd says, “All it is, is what I saw.”
A decade later, she produced “The Painted Room” (1982), another window painting. This time the curtains are yellow and the window seems to be suspended within a wooded setting. In fact, the surrounding scene is a woodland mural that Dodd painted in the interior of the house. A glimpse of real nature appears through the window.
O’Brien has gathered many of the window paintings in the center of the show. Other works reflect the many hours Dodd spent outdoors. In the early 1977 she painted “Woods with Falling Tree,” a woodland scene captured in dense detail. But it didn’t become a habit, as seen in the simple flattened shapes connoting mountains, river and sky in “Delaware Water Gap in Winter,” painted the same year.
For six decades, Dodd has roamed her Maine surroundings, capturing sheds and shacks, trees and paths in daylight and darkness, summer and snow. After resisting it for years as too feminine, she gave flower painting a whirl in the 1990s, but her “Globe Thistle” and “Cow Parsnip” feel strangely lifeless. By and large, Dodd’s compositions are more successful when they incorporate structuring elements.
“Door Staircase” (1981) is a minimalist’s delight, with its rhythmic ascending horizontals within a shallow space framed by a rectangular doorway. “Green Door and Bed” (1994) is also battened down by verticals and horizontals, but includes a rumpled white sheet as a foil. There’s the hint of a mood within this work, which is a rare quality for Dodd, reserved for her night and snow scenes.
For an artist not given to surprises, several paintings of female nudes in outdoor settings are a radical departure. Based on studies of painter friends, they include the fetching “Four Nudes and Woodpile” (2001-02), a quasi utopian vision of female athleticism and industry.
Of Dodd’s later works, these are the standouts, with their playful nod to early modernist Fernand Leger. Hilton Kramer loved them when he reviewed Dodd’s show at the Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, Maine, in 2001.
In his lead essay in the Kemper show’s catalog, well-known art critic John Yau writes that Dodd “does not celebrate excess, ownership or leisure, nor does she condemn it.”
In fact, Dodd maintained a value-free approach to whatever she decided to paint, concentrating on what appeared before her eyes.
The Kemper’s retrospective honors Dodd’s passion for painting, but there is nothing passionate about the results.