Coe best at his least-restrained

November 11, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Judging from the large exhibit of 26 Henry Coe landscapes at Grimaldis, this is a divided artist. Some of his paintings look as if they were created to fulfill an inner vision; some look as if they were created to please an audience that likes well-executed, pleasant looking, unchallenging landscapes.

At his best, which is to say at his loosest, most gestural and dynamic handling of paint, Coe makes works that are visually stimulating and emotionally resonant. "Salt Marsh Canal," the best work in the show, has tremendous depth and a grand sweep of sky matched by the sweep of paint across the canvas. It looks like a cry of defiance in the face of inevitable night.

"Blue House," with its dark trees and house set off by a fiery patch of lawn, has an air of menace. "Signs of Fall," with its dilapidated house and bursts of color slashingly applied, has the feeling of struggle about it.

Other paintings, although their surfaces are less active, nevertheless make an impression. "Near Halloween" exudes informality and optimism. You can feel the coldness of "Sundown," and the shadowy "House Abandoned" has presence.

When Coe is capable of his better work here, it's a disappointment to see him also turning out paintings that lack conviction. Blandness kills "March Morning"; it's not exactly a cliche, but it's dull. "End of the Season" has an overly self-conscious composition and does border on the cliche.

"Rt. 851" is a lovely painting; but, as lovely isn't a very strong word, this isn't a very strong work of art. It's satisfied with its nicely placed clouds above its gently rolling fields. It's easy on the eyes, but too well-mannered to engage you in any meaningful discourse.

Coe is better than that. If he weren't, there wouldn't be a whole lot of reason to notice him. When he really puts himself into a painting you sit up and take notice, and he does that sometimes in this uneven, fitfully interesting show. He may think it's possible to travel down two roads going in different directions at the same time, but if he's really going to fulfill his potential he's going to have to choose the road less traveled. And that, as Robert Frost would say, will make all the difference.

'Henry Coe' Where: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 26.

Call: (410) 539-1080.

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