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Jack Livingston: The Canyon Suite

By Jason Hughes | Posted 10/3/2007

Jack Livingston: The Canyon Suite

At Minás Gallery through Oct. 28

The Canyon Suite is a collection of mostly small and intimate gouache on paper and/or linen paintings whose earthy palette reflects the open landscape of the Western United States. Local artist Jack Livingston has created 53 new works for the exhibition, and the works' bleeding washes, wispy line work, and gestural shapes appear to become a longing for places once traveled. The quaint upstairs gallery at Minás in Hampden is well suited and proportioned for the large collection of small-scale works--not to mention the more than affordable price tags, which explain all the red dots on the walls.

Many of the 8-by-6-inch and smaller paintings have little to no representation of the landscape other than the mood that they naturally embody. They resemble details of mountainous rock faces, the dry desert countryside, or isolated muddy pools of water. One of the larger works (15-by-11-inches), "Kardiá (Heart)," contains dense layers of earthy umbers, siennas, and ochres all washed together with dabs of intense indigo blues and deep midnight blacks. The painting is reminiscent of prehistoric rock paintings, as if the weather has bled all the mystic symbolism into a murky colorfield painting.

Other works, such as "Laurel," offer more recognizable imagery--a distant, dark, and menacing tornado spiraling down and becoming a delicate foot at its base that is just beginning to touch the ground. Or, as in "Castlerock," a playfully threatening thundercloud hangs over a pair of mountain peaks as a blue streak pours from the center of the cloud down to the earth.

The majority of these landscape abstractions fade from one association to another, it never being quite clear from where the artist has made use of his inspiration. A great deal of the same shapes, forms, and colors recur within other works in the exhibit, allowing them to prey upon your imagination. For example, in one moment a circle with a smaller circle inside it appears to be an animal's eye, but then in another a woman's breast, and then in another an aerial view of farm irrigation. These cross-references and disassociations are what make these works all the more interesting.

Livingston appears to be building upon a current style of painting that is simultaneously gestural and abstract yet controlled and meticulous. In these works nothing appears to be concrete and everything is always transforming. At times it is easy to recognize what is present, but a composition quickly becomes a vague dream, forcing you to reconsider what it is you're trying to see.

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