Leake captures truth rather than fact

October 01, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Over the past two decades or so that Eugene Leake has been painting the Maryland countryside, the subject matter of his best work has become increasingly intangible. From depicting the trees and fields and streams of the landscape, Leake has progressed to its moods and its light and air.

The process continues in his latest show, opening today at Grimaldis Gallery. The 23 canvases it includes were all completed within the past two years, but they range from "Evening Pasture," a relatively straightforward scene of a field and trees with horses, to "Heavy Fog & Orange Sun," in which everything virtually dissolves behind a suffusing veil.

Such canvases as the latter are about effects, not about objects. In "Grey & Orange Sunrise" the foreground is populated with trees, but Leake depicts the momentary effect of growing light -- the trees are in the gray stage of progress from nighttime black to daytime green. In "January Meadow Fog" three-fourths of the canvas is gray, but it's not a uniform gray -- it's one that changes across and up and down the surface, resembling fog's constant movement. "Silos" is not about silos, it's about white-pink-lavender light.

But saying that these works are about effects is not to say that Leake is "creating an effect," which would be false; rather, he is recording one, which is the opposite. Looking at certain of these works, one is tempted to think of Leake as either on the one hand a romantic or on the other an increasingly abstract painter. But actually he is neither, for ultimately these paintings impart the sense that the artist's effort is really to capture the truth of what he sees.

Not the fact, but the truth. That is, when we look at, say, a maple tree from a distance, we know that its leaves are green and veined and shaped a certain way. That is the fact of what we're looking at, but the truth of what we see is quite different and constantly changing. It's difficult to put aside knowledge of what's there in order to get at the truth of what we actually see. In his best work over the years Leake has grown toward that truth, as he continues to do in the more significant paintings here.

They are not all significant, and they don't all look as if they were meant to be. Some are clearly more important than others, and, while no one can be at his best all the time, in some of these works Leake has settled for less than he might have. In one or two other, obviously major paintings, such as "July Mist -- Sunrise," the image is so gorgeous it has a certain softness to it, more pleasing than challenging.

More challenging than pleasing, and more satisfying, is the large and in some ways almost awkward painting "Forest Stream," in which the darkness at the center may hint of rumination on another kind of truth, the human condition. Perhaps that's putting too heavy a load on this picture, but at any rate Leake's toughest and truest paintings are better than his tenderest, loveliest ones.

Eugene Leake

Where: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 1006 Morton St.

When: Tuesdays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Through Nov. 1.

Call: (410) 539-1092.

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