Sensual still lifes, pleasing photos at Nye

June 15, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Think of watercolor and you think of transparency, luminosity and fluidity. While these qualities inhabit to some degree Pamela Phillips' big watercolor still lifes of fruit and vegetables at Nye Gomez, they are not what these works communicate most strongly. Expressiveness and sensuality above all speak through the deep colors, round contours and bright highlights of these pears and apples and potatoes, nestling together in shallow spaces against dark backgrounds.

The intensity of red in "Red Bliss" conveys a sense of carnality, and the curves and deep purple of the eggplant in "Beginning" are almost voluptuous. A kind of deep, quiet joy comes through )) the greens and yellows of "Still-Life," and the same is true of "Hide and Seek," while "Red Beets" is informed by a quality of earthy integrity.

There is even a touch of humor in the puffed-up self-importance of "Persimmons."

In writing of the carnality of a potato or the voluptuousness of an eggplant, there is the danger of making them sound ridiculous. On the contrary, these works are certainly rewarding when regarded simply as still lifes, and then there's a sense of human feeling which gives them greater depth.

Phillips is less successful with those works which include people. The images are still strong, but the faces look too much alike and have an almost cartoonish appearance. They look as if they were done out of a sense of duty to address more important subject matter than still lifes, but it is through the latter that Phillips has the most to say in this show.

Neil Meyerhoff's panoramic photographs, the other half of Nye Gomez's current offering, come in several sizes from tiny (2 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches) to great big (2 feet by 6 feet), and the subjects are primarily baseball and a variety of landscapes. from trees and flowers in Sherwood Gardens to sand dunes to mountains.

They are notable for color, for a clarity of image which gives a crispness and immediacy even to objects at a distance, and for a compositional integrity which rescues them from being simply long pictures. But some are better than others.

Among the baseball images, the best is the biggest, "Behind the Screen." It's big enough for the viewer to feel a part of the scene, and it puts the game and the stadium in the context of the city, suggestingthat the order and symmetry of the game provide a foil for the jumble and fragmentation of urban life.

Meyerhoff's landscapes are almost uniformly handsome, but not particularly original. Here and there, however, one happens upon a surprise.

That is particularly true of "Summer Storm." The image is simply a band of green farmland bordered by trees under a lowering sky.

The picture impresses by its ability to feel like an entity despite its openness, to cohere without a strong compositional anchor which might pull it together but also might make it more of a cliche. The two trees near the center in a sense serve that function, but as green in green they do so without contrast, without making a statement of it, without forcing the eye to come to a full stop in its progress across the scene. Thus this image achieves a looser, more flowing, more painterly and, at the same time, more natural, less-contrived look than most of its neighbors.

ART REVIEW

What: Watercolors by Pamela Phillips and photographs by Neil Meyerhoff

Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through July 3

Call: (410) 752-2080

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