Thursday, November 1, 2012

Landscapes so bright you'll need shades

Don Tiller at Childhood's End
review by Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 1, 2012

"Straw Hat," acrylic on canvas by Don Tiller, courtesy Childhood's End Gallery
"Coral Sky," acrylic on canvas by Don Tiller, courtesy Childhood's End Gallery

I went with my wife to see Don Tiller’s paintings at Childhood’s End. She loved them, raved about them. I thought they were pretty good, but I was not as excited as she.

Tiller is a landscape painter from Port Townsend. I suspect his work sells very well with the tourist trade up there. He paints highly stylized landscapes in colors that are so bright as to verge on overwhelming. The winding roads, rolling hills and furrowed fields of his paintings remind me of Grant Wood and even — this may be a stretch: El Greco.

These are exciting and joyful paintings. The reasons I don’t rate them more highly are: the brilliance of his colors, especially the orange, is slightly over done; there s a slick (i.e., commercial) quality that I’m not crazy about; and they seem to pander to nostalgia for an idealized past that never was.

Something else that bothered me, but only slightly, is that seen from a distance of three or four feet — the normal distance for viewing paintings in a gallery — the parts lose unity; the parts become more interesting than the whole, especially in the larger paintings. If you step back and view them from across the gallery they become more unified.

The things I do like about them are the manner in which he lays on the paint and the way in which he manages to keep everything on the same plane despite having clearly delineated linear perspective. The former is the reason for the latter.

“Barn Trio” is one of the nicest paintings in the show. It is a small painting with a few clouds like helium balloons in a blue sky and a flow of crows that appear to be etched into the paint. I like that look.

“Straw Hat” is another of my favorites. A man on a tractor plows a field. The foreground is deep blue, green and gray. The middle ground is bright orange, and the sky is blue and orange. This division into foreground, middle ground and sky is typical of his paintings and provides a simple unifying design element.

“Out in the Sticks” reminds me of one of Wayne Thiebeaud’s paintings of San Francisco streets due to the extreme perspective of furrowed yellow fields being absolutely vertical like fence posts. He does it again with “Sharpai Hills.” 

Regular readers of my column know that when it comes to paintings that are stylized or that tend toward abstraction I usually prefer more abstract to less abstract, less conventional to more conventional, and large and expressionistic to smaller and calmer.  Not so with these paintings. I think Tiller’s large paintings are too bombastic. His smaller and more conventional paintings like “Barn Tro” and “Coral Sky” and “Winery” hold together much better. His colors are better in these and his manner of laying the paint on in slow, deliberate strokes without mixing or blending on the surface is much more effective in these smaller works. One called “Winery” has a much different color scheme than the others, with a purple barn and deep green hills, and it creates a nice feeling of serenity.


[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Nov. 11, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

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