Where: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.
When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through June 29.
Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.
When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through July 12.
"Ellen Burchenal: Recent Painting and Works on Paper," at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on North Charles Street, will constitute a moderate surprise to those who know her work. Not because it's good (it always was); not even because it's better (one alway"Ellen Burchenal: Recent Painting and Works on Paper," at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on North Charles Street, will constitute a moderate surprise to those who know her work. Not because it's good (it always was); not even because it's better (one always had confidence that this intelligent artist would build upon the past); and not because the work has changed but because of how it has changed.
Burchenal currently enjoys two local shows; the other, "Doors and Windows," occupies the second floor gallery at School 33, and since the paintings in that show are a little earlier than the Grimaldis ones, the artist's recent development can best be traced starting there.
For some time, Burchenal had been working largely in charcoal drawings of tight, volumetric, sometimes biomorphic forms. The paintings in "Doors and Windows" translate similar forms to the painting medium, but keep much of the same tightness and restrict illusionism largely to the apparent three-dimensionality of the shapes in what is really a two-dimensional medium.
The major change visible in the paintings at Grimaldis is a much looser, more gestural, freer and more energetic rendering, which carries with it emotional connotations as well as purely visual developments.
The dominant shapes are still simple, often an hourglass form recalling the curves of the human body and made up of elements that weave into and out of one another -- something like a braid. But they are somewhat less strictly defined than before, and they exist on and interact with much more expressive fields or backgrounds.
In "Cloud (Purple & Yellow)," the shape appears against an exploding field of lozenge shapes that rush toward the edges of the canvas. Here, and perhaps even more so in "Cloud (Blue and Orange)," the overlapping of shapes creates a series of receding planes which create a sense of indeterminate depth. Elsewhere, as in "Big Heart" or "Track Painting, Red & Green" the shapes in the background field fade away at places, leaving an almost atmospheric sense.
In their increased openness, looseness and energy, there is a more baroque feel to these works than to Burchenal's earlier efforts. And in their gestural expressiveness there is a greater sense of emotional communication. Their bright colors, too, only reinforce that sense.
Without losing the rigorousness of conception and execution that Burchenal's earlier work possessed, these make themselves more welcoming to the viewer, because, it seems obvious, the artist is allowing herself a greater range and fullness of expression.