In Massia landscapes, intense peaks and valleys

November 27, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Nefeli Massia's landscape paintings appear to be made in a non-traditional way, but the result is nevertheless a form of landscape, if a subjective and expressionist one.

These works look as if they were made to a considerable degree by causing the materials (the artist uses a combination of oil, resin and shellac) to flow, ooze and drip across and down the canvas, with added scratches and other strokes. Such a method would seem to involve a large element of chance, but a close look at Massia's paintings reveals a high degree of care and control.

If what emerges from this process is in the realm of landscape, it does not appear to be in any sense objective landscape -- the result of having looked at a particular place. Rather, it is a combination of the romantic and the expressionist, with overtones of the artist's native Greece (she currently lives in Baltimore).

In "Exodus," two mountains descend to a dark valley partially shrouded in clouds, with tiny architecture-like elements at each side that suggest the enormous scale of the rest. "Biogenesis" puts the viewer at the bottom of an abyss-like space, looking up a vast incline to a bowl of sky at the top. In "Brewing Storm" a tiny vertical, like a solitary figure, is placed on the ridge of a vast and rising landscape.

It has been suggested that some of Massia's earlier work contain elements of nightmare, but this work is closer to expressionism than to surrealism; it suggests less the revelation of the unconscious than the effort to endow the image with emotional intensity. Above all, perhaps, its sweep and drama and its evocations of the power of nature suggest a Turneresque romanticism.

One can see the influence of Greece on this vision, whether it be the mountainous quality and the brownness of much of the landscape, the strong light, or a more specific reference such as the colonnade-like row of verticals in "Landscape II."

Not every aspect of these works is equally successful. A snakelike element in the foreground of some of the paintings may be a sexual or a biblical reference, but at times it seems to a degree gratuitous, as if included mainly to provide a focus against which the rest of the picture can work.

If raw power is one of the aims of these paintings, as it seems to be, it is somewhat vitiated by the gleaming surfaces Massia achieves. And some of these works prove weaker at close range than at a distance.

In addition to its 12 paintings, the show contains 16 etchings that show Massia to be an accomplished and at times commanding printmaker. Her marks are strong, her imagery is gutsy, and both individually and collectively these works have considerable brooding presence.

Nefeli Massia

Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through Dec. 30.

Call: (410) 752-2080.

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