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Caryn Martin: Atmospheric Abstractions

By Kate Noonan | Posted 8/20/2008

Caryn Martin: Atmospheric Abstractions

At the Creative Alliance at the Patterson through Aug. 16

Pardon the cliché, but walking into Caryn Martin's exhibition at the Creative Alliance really does feel like inhaling a breath of fresh air. Installed in the loftlike Amelie Rothschild Gallery, Atmospheric Abstractions is given the airy space it needs for the paintings to resonate, as they are best viewed when standing in the center of the gallery. Up close, her works become subtle studies in shade and shape, but taken in as a whole, Martin's paintings create a transformative and healing environment of emotional landscape. The collection of 23 virtually monochromatic oils here displays Martin's self-described spiritual connection to nature and provides viewers with a quiet moment of visual respite.

Against the gallery's gray-painted walls, Martin's light-colored paintings take on an ethereal quality and appear to float in space. The works are hung in chronological order, giving us a peek into the artist's progression as a landscape painter. Taking the eye across the gradients of color, the show begins with her most vivid early works and ends with the restrained palette she uses today. The first five works, a series of horizontal canvases titled "Umbrian Land/Sky," date from 2006 and are by far the most detailed in both color and subject, yet we can already see where Martin is headed. Although the greens and purples of the Umbrian landscape still assert their presence, they are diffused by a warm haze of light that washes over the entire canvas, making the lines between the rolling hills and the expanse of sky become almost indecipherable.

"Quiet I and II" and "Stillness Series I-IV," all completed in 2007, show a dramatic reduction in Martin's color palette and the continuing transformation of her landscapes from representational to conceptual. Although she incorporates more and more white to the canvas, Martin's paintings retain an enveloping sense of warmth. The 10 works on display from the "Stillness Series" are small, eight-by-16-inch meditations on landscape that expand on the abstraction she began in her '06 paintings. Here, the landscape has morphed from blurred but recognizable to completely ambiguous, a move that is also reflected in the titles, which from '07 onward refer to states of being rather than specific places.

Martin's most recent paintings, "Beyond I-III," show an increasing confidence working with her approach, and the three unidentifiable landscapes make up her largest paintings in the exhibition. Using glowing, autumnal shades of pale browns, golds, and yellows, Martin showcases how far her handling of color has come in such a short time. Here she has almost completely abandoned representation, reducing the landscape to its purest, most essential form. ()

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