Neill's watercolors lush, vibrant

March 18, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Christine Neill's large-scale watercolors of leafy plants have always been characterized by her mastery of lush and vibrant color, her sometimes dramatic effects of light and shadow, and her ability to suggest landscape without actually depicting it.

There was a time, some years ago, when her work appeared to be concerned with nothing more than visual pleasure. In her current show at Gomez, however, her recent work takes on new levels of meaning without losing strength. The visual pleasure's still there, but accompanied by suggestions of personality and emotion and occasional sly humor.

"Lee's Branch" has two clusters of leaves, apparently in the midst of an argument. One berates in a loud voice, while the other looks fluttery with alarm. In the diptych "Canna and Rodo," the left-hand image, with its large, strong forms, has achieved a fullness of personality, while the right-hand one, with its crown of wispy strands, looks adrift, uncohesive, vague. Her etching "Florabunda" shows a series of plant forms in delightful "poses." One looks like the turn-of-the-century dancer Loie Fuller, with her billowing drapery. Another resembles a moose head, another a pop singer doing contortions onstage. "Strelitzia Regina" can be seen as a conductor, or possibly a soloist, in a circle of musicians.

It's fun to read such things into Neill's work, but there's more to it than that.

And they also provide surprises in the artist's ability to suggest landscape where none exists. In "Triple Iris," the flowers appear against washes of watercolor that might be a picture of fields, hills and sky on a misty day. In "Canna and Rodo," one can see a brilliant sunrise in the background, or just yellow above purple watercolor.

After wandering through the various possibilities of Neill's images, it's pleasant to come back to what they are, accomplished watercolors of plant life. Neill has said "I paint to make visual what I don't see," but she paints well what she does see, too.

In a smaller gallery at Gomez, Holly Roberts' painted photographs achieve a reversal of sorts. Roberts adds paint on the photograph, which peeks through here and there. But in effect, the painting brings out what's underneath the facade of the photograph: the modesty of the man in "Submerged," the child beneath the adult in "Child Sleeping," the unleashed energy of the dog in "Dog Barking." There's more going on in Roberts' work than first meets the eye, which makes it a suitable companion to Neill's work.

Christine Neill and Holly Roberts

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; through April 12

Call: 410-752-2080

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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