Single, singular Gardner work dominates show

March 20, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Symmes Gardner's "Reflection," one of the paintings in his two-person show with Kristen Hogue at Galerie Francoise, is both the best work in the show and the best work of his I've ever seen.

That's not to say that his other works have been practice sessions for this singular painting. Over the half dozen years that I've seen this painter's work, I've admired his accomplishments as a representational painter of landscapes and still lives. He might picture a sheaf of wheat or a violin, the trunk of a tree ("Trunk" in the present show), a field, or a scene in the woods ("The Path").

Gardner's paintings attract the eye with their texture and their quiet presence, which stems from an arresting reality. His realism isn't of the paint-every-leaf school of illusion; it brings out the essence of a scene or an object. His tree trunk is so thoroughly a tree trunk that it doesn't seem to be made of paint at all. And it retains that tree-trunkness even though the stump of one of its cut-off limbs can resemble a mouth crying out in pain.

But with "Reflection" Gardner goes in a new and far more abstract direction. On the surface it's elements are unremarkable: a lake, a shoreline, a tree branch hanging over the water. The water reflects a mound of stones or something of the sort on the far shore. But in conception this is a painting that refers to abstraction, Postimpressionism and Asian art, and blends all these influences to create an image that's Gardner's own.

The picture's design is a geometric abstraction, with its triangles, irregular polygons and slices of circles. Its ragged-edged foliage and water recall the anxiety-laden cypress trees of van Gogh; the play of two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality recalls works by Gauguin and Vuillard, themselves influenced by Asian art. And the Asian elements are reinforced by a branch that glides in at the top left, suggesting something much larger outside the picture.

But despite all these elements, the image doesn't appear derivative. It's strong and original and keeps calling your attention away from the show's other works, even such compelling ones as Gardner's intensely colored "Bricks" on the same wall.

Kristen Hogue's biggest painting here, the 7-by-10-foot "Becoming," is her best. In it, leaves float on the surface of TC blue-green background, but the picture achieves a sense of space without giving the viewer anything to refer to in the space. There's more to the work than this, however, or it would be just a tour de force. The leaves also suggest memories floating in the mind.

Hogue's other paintings, incorporating ribbons and drapery, are equally accomplished and undoubtedly attractive but ultimately they are a bit too self-conscious.

Galerie Francois

What: Paintings by Symmes Gardner and Kristen Hogue

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 3

Call: 410-337-2787

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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