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Art

Mix Degrees of Separation

Another Strong Two-Artist Show At The Grimaldis Gallery

Henry Coe's 2007 painting "Upperco Pasture"
Installation view of René Trevino's drawings

By Deborah McLeod | Posted 11/21/2007

Henry Coe: New Landscapes and René Treviño: Saguaro Warriors

At C. Grimaldis Gallery through Nov. 24

C. Grimaldis Gallery is pretty great about mixing it up with its front and rear shows. The strategy appeals to a larger audience, and this current set is a good example of Grimaldis' talent at amplitude.

In the front gallery are the rural landscapes of Henry Coe, a highly accomplished plein-air painter and gallery star. Coe is essentially a contemporary Impressionist, his surfaces fragmented and activated with the shifting vagaries of light. He portrays it leaping around like a hyperactive child, bouncing upon rugged, rent surfaces--rocks and plowed fields--or moving in and out of distant copses of trees. He favors valiant, minimally monumental places mostly uncompromised by modern life. They include secluded views from the Maine coast and the few remaining farmlands and homesteads of the Eastern Seaboard, including Maryland. Regardless of the verdant stretches of forested fence lines in evidence, there is something in the artist's color that conveys a sense of the Western landscape. It might be the stored heat in the earth, the eggplant shadows, or the active atmospheric vastness that he renders whenever appropriate. But amid all that Hudson River Gone West is a decidedly New England structure, or an old hard-working Victorian. Coe's chosen houses possess this firm, modest, stalwart admonition to stay put and make do. But they digress--because except for these sentimentally predetermined structures, everything about Coe's painting is about movement.

"Winter Solstice" is a reinvention of its namesake through its composition. Coe has divided the painting in half with the title balancing the two opposing narratives on either side. On the left the farmhouse sits beyond a field of idle, harrowed soil, broken by the long shadows of a low sun. On the right is the traveled road, the utility poles, and a burning orange pasture of winter wheat where the sun continues to nudge its survival. He employs a similar time device in "Camp Barnes Road," situating the hoary harvested past in the left plane and the cultivated fields of tall corn in the right.

In addition, there are some charming smaller street scenes from Coe's travels in France. Their atmosphere is much quieter, more amber, winsome in the nooks and crannies of Europe's mini-urban perspective, and, well, French. These little works are lovely and mannered as potential members of the household, for they fully capture all the reasons you long for places like the ones they so gratifyingly offer as experience. You judge these paintings so differently than the works in Grimaldis' back gallery, even though each is a form of caress, embrace, and interpretation by the artist of his subject matter.

René Treviño's splendid installation surrounds you with larger-than-life graphite samplers of some of the great men of recent and past notoriety: Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill Cody, Robert E. Lee, Cary Grant, and James Bond number among them. They are obsessively illustrated in a linear hatched drawing technique that somewhat replicates a stitching process and tacked up on the wall to dangle casually, curling at the bottom. In this manner they are spared the dire and presumptuous environment of a portrait gallery to become democratic and interchangeable, able to shuffle over to accommodate upstarts. It is fascinating to scan and compare these leading men of the History Channel, to look from one face to the next for clues into their psyches and style. Is it pure cocky attitude that enables a fellow like Cary Grant or James Bond to capture our imagination, to rise above the fray of handsome specimens? Or is it the weighty gravitas born out in Robert E. Lee's deep-set eyes that ennobles? Or the eccentric sideways skepticism of Buffalo Bill, or the proximity of a statuesque saguaro cactus that lends its prickly phallic example to the ultimate judgment of character.

Yes, Treviño suggests in each of his ardent (and in his words, homoerotic) renderings, and it's also their story line, what these heroes managed to accomplish or represent, and how it got recorded and remembered. But there are uncertainties in the formula. Treviño could pin a drawing of George W. Bush up there amid the boys--for boys they are to the last. He could stand there with one cocked hip, a sideways skepticism, and a grave brow, but he wouldn't be an equal in this gathering--perhaps because senselessness absorbs his story. He might tower, for example, over little Sitting Bull, but he can't match his monumental, heroic mettle and archetype. The moral is: If you own a saguaro, you'd best use it Homerically when out in public, and possibly buy it some extraordinary pants.

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