Henry Coe captures feel of landscape


November 12, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Henry Coe has been showing his landscape paintings for a dozen years at Grimaldis, and it has been interesting to watch him mature. As his current show demonstrates, he becomes less self-conscious with time, and also less interested in pure depiction and more interested in capturing the feel of landscape. As a result, his work becomes more communicative.

"Feel" of landscape is not meant as emotion but rather what it physically feels like to be in the landscape. This show's "Red Bridge Road," for instance, not only captures the failing light of a late fall day but the air's briskness just tinged with rawness.

"Early Spring" possesses its season's feel, too, with its browns giving way to greens and the lightness (as opposed to heaviness rather than darkness) of its sky. "Sea Wall" sets up a counterpoint between warmth and coldness in contrasting sun on the foreground with rocks and white water farther away.

In "White Bridge," the hard, geometric, stationary single-color object (the bridge) is played against the soft, indistinct, shifting nature of foliage and water. One feels here the familiar, pleasurable shock of seeing the moving landscape, as one travels along, suddenly make a composition of itself.

On the whole, Coe's approach has become bolder. There's less obvious carefulness about his compositions, and he's not afraid to take more chances, such as locating the horizon smack in the middle of "Over Eden Mill" and making it work.

Some things don't work. Coe aptly captures the alternate roughness and smoothness of water in "Light Fading into Deer Creek," but the rest of the painting simply looks sloppy. On the other hand, "Sunset from Grey's Cove" is so full of carefully contrived effect that it teeters on the edge of looking fake.

Coe is one of those artists whose work is best taken in whole. Close inspection brings out some nice touches, such as the spots of pink in the sky of "Sea Wall"; but the brush stroke isn't especially compelling on its own, nor does it resolve itself, out of context, into interesting passages of abstraction. It is as entities that these paintings establish their considerable presence. Even the little oil on paper "Deer Isle Study" has real carrying power.

On the whole, Coe here imparts a sense of moving on -- of growing into works of greater weight, of willingness to experiment even when it might be safer not to. It continues to be rewarding to watch him develop.

"Henry Coe" continues through Dec. 1 at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, 1006 Morton St. Call (410) 539-1092. Note: The gallery is now open Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. in addition to Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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