Landscaper meets challenge of staying ahead of the field

November 11, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Eugene Leake continues to prove himself a landscape painter of remarkable talents. If the current show of his work at Grimaldis is less consistent than those of the recent past, it contains many pictures of a high order, and his versatility and willingness to take chances come through loud and clear.

From past experience, one tends to think of Leake as the creator of large-scale landscapes that have tended to become increasingly abstract.

More diversity shows itself in this exhibition. Large canvases alternate with smaller ones. Grimaldis has for the first time included some of Leake's watercolors. And the art ranges from the almost totally abstract to works that are more realistic than one has become accustomed to in recent years.

The watercolors positively lift the heart. In "Red Sun -- Dark Morning," with the utmost economy of means, a few washes of dark color and a red dot for the sun, Leake creates atmosphere and mood and a feeling of the sensuousness of the enveloping darkness. In "Yellow Sunrise," the burst of yellow hovering over a misty field evokes not just the break of day but the sense of optimism it brings with it. These small works leave the impression that they were --ed off in a few minutes, but it takes a lifetime of work to make such felicity appear effortless.

Among the small-scale paintings are a number of gems, including "Upper Crossroads Night" and "Jacksonville Night," two of the lively, rhythmic night scenes Leake has undertaken with such success in recent years. A daylight darkness pervades the sky and land of "Corn Fields," giving the picture a brooding, ruminative quality.

The larger-scale oils here are the most uneven. The effect of two of them, "October Morning" and "Four Foot Sketch," is somewhat the opposite of the watercolors. In their effort to look unlabored, they are curiously labored, and unlike most of Leake's pictures, they just don't work.

In one sense, "Forest Brook" and "Snow Fog" lie at the opposite ends of the Leake spectrum, the former showing Leake at his most realistic and the latter showing him at his most abstract. In another way they are similar -- so beautiful you want to melt into them, almost too gorgeous for their own good. They verge on the voluptuous, and there's a hint of weakness in that.

Compare these with two of Leake's best works here. "Near Stewartstown" is a triumph of reserve, in terms of both color and emotional content; it makes no effort to please, and it has immense integrity. The astringent colors of "Storm Clouds & Dark Trees" are something of a departure for Leake; they make the painting tougher to get into than some other works here but more rewarding when you do.

One of the reasons this show refreshes is Leake's willingness to experiment. How much better to keep on trying new things than to play it safe.

EUGENE LEAKE

What: Eugene Leake New Works

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 27

$ Call: (410) 539-1080

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