1999-07-29 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance
by Susan Hartenstein

Presently at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Steinhardt Conservatory Gallery until August 22 is a marvelous exhibit of watercolors and oils by Dan Gibbons. All done on location, half were done at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Every one of the ocean scenes was painted at Riis Park.

Gibbons is a practitioner of direct painting, hardly ever using glazes. He never first sketches the piece out on the painting surface, believing that a painting is meant to be painted, not drawn. A minimum of mixing is done on the palette. Not skimpy with his paint, Gibbons puts a lot on the brush. The results of these techniques are works rich in color, loose and free and full of movement. Gibbons doesn’t get bogged down in detail. As he says, he doesn’t paint "every whisker on the cat." Much of what is in his paintings is what is left out or implied, and herein lies a lot of the subtlety of his work. The viewer is drawn into the piece and is encouraged to fill in the details, as in the watercolor "Low Orange." Gibbons appears to have the sensibilities of a watercolorist, even in his oils. In fact, previously familiar only with his watercolors, I am impressed by how wonderful his oils are. He leaves a great deal of white or blank surface in works of both media, as in the watercolor "Peonies in the Wind." Consequently his paintings "breathe." He frequently thins down his oils and will allow them to drip, invading and defining a space, as in "Peonies." The oils in the exhibit are done on Masonite and canvas boards, usually primed. In two extraordinary pieces, "Cherry Orchard" and "Magnolias", he has left the masonite unprimed, using the dark brown of the board as a ground, much of which is allowed to show through. In "Magnolias", this technique sets up a dynamic interplay between the rich dark background and the white and light pink flowers. The brushstrokes of "Cherry Orchard" are so free and loose, I thought from the distance it might be a pastel.

Gibbons works simultaneously on background and foreground, constantly jumping from one to the other. The resulting dialogue between the two, both unifies the paintings and gives them movement. Frequently it is the dark, rich background which defines and gives strength to the subtler, lighter foreground, as in the exquisite oil, "White Peonies" and the watercolor, "Lilies in a Glass Jug."

Included in the exhibit is a series of oils done at Riis Park at different seasons and times of day. In "Riis-Looking Left", done at sunset, it was becoming so dark as Gibbons was working, he used blue-green paint, thinking it was blue. The result is a wonderfully exciting and intriguing work.

This exhibit includes landscapes and seascapes from various domestic and foreign locations, as well as close-up views of flowers and trees, or what Gibbons refers to as "little pieces of a broader reality." Some have a bit more detail, some are very loose and washy, almost abstract. In all, Gibbons fills his paintings with mood and drama by the expert use of color, value, contrast, brushstroke and design. This is a show worth seeing.


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