Sunday April 20th 2014

Art Spotting

Catching the light

By: Jamie Thompson

The fresh, wonderfully evocative paintings of Lois Dodd bring a much-needed injection of color and light to Maine’s winter. “Catching the Light”, on view until April 7 at the Portland Museum of Art, is the first career museum retrospective for Dodd, featuring 51 works from her nearly 60-year career.

One of the first paintings one encounters on entering the exhibition is Self Portrait in Green Window (1971), which is part of the Portland Museum of Art’s permanent collection. I have seen this piece many times, but I never tire of it. To me, it encapsulates what Dodd’s work is about.

Her style is colorful and bold; often her work features windows, reflections, and nature. Sometimes, as in Green Window, her brushwork is loose, with a spontaneous quality. Other times, it is crisp and precise.

 The stunning piece featured above is Woods (triptych), 1975

A grouping of interior scenes is particularly fascinating. Springtime Studio Interior (1973) depicts a cluttered studio, reflected in mirrors propped on the floor. Door, Staircase (1981) is a view of a staircase through an open door; the scene is bright, like a midsummer day. View Through Elliot’s Shack Looking South (1971) has the viewer outside looking inside, looking outside! You’ll just have to see that one to know what I mean.

These works perfectly exemplify the concept of indoors versus outdoors found in much of Dodd’s work. The tension between the two is what gives her paintings their sense of whimsy and curiosity.

The Painted Room (1982) takes this idea to another level. The walls of the room are painted with a mural of a forest. A window in the middle of the wall looks out to a leafy landscape.

What strikes me about the show is is how cohesive it is without feeling redundant. Even though Dodd’s style is pretty consistent throughout her career, there is still experimentation to be found.

Her beautiful use of color conveys light and shadow. Think of the pale blues of a snowy meadow, the pastel purples and pinks of a quiet sunset, or the bright golds of an afternoon’s light. Dodd captures all of this.

But the light isn’t limited only to her daytime scenes: Her nighttime works are also compelling studies in “catching the light.” For example, Night House (1975) depicts the stark black silhouette of a house against an inky black sky. The windows of the house are rendered as rectangles in a piercing shade of yellow. Men’s Shelter at Night (1969) has an almost abstract quality, with sharp geometric shapes and high contrast.

The exhibition also features some of Dodd’s splendid floral paintings, nudes, and recent small works.

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