Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday show a mixed bag at Childhood's End

High-end decorative art for Christmas

Pate De Verra Glass by Lin McJunkin. Courtesy photo

By Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, December 20, 2012

Art galleries often trot out old favorites and sure-sellers for the holiday season. Childhood's End Gallery has a tendency to do that year-round. Fortunately, many of their favorites and best-sellers are also good art. But not always their best.

They've practically recycled the entirety of their recent Don Tiller show, which is not a bad thing. Tiller does some very interesting if somewhat sentimental and nostalgic landscapes. His paintings are like Grant Wood or Thomas Hart Benton revisited but more colorful. People who did not get a chance to see his recent show should stop by and see these paintings - undulating hills and furrows and trees and clouds in blindingly brilliant color.

They're also recycling a lot of Christopher Mathie's work. On the upside, Mathie is one of the best and most prolific painters working in Washington today. His tumultuous seascapes and his more recent purely abstract paintings are prime examples of the most sweepingly gestural side of Abstract Expressionism. At his best, Mathie is as good as any artist working today. His textures, layering, transparencies and agitated brushstrokes are exciting. But at his worst he tends to be gimmicky and showy. There seems, in fact, to be two Christopher Mathie's: a pure painter influenced by Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, and the Mathie who caters to popular taste. Unfortunately, most of what he is showing in this exhibition falls into the latter category. There are, for instance, a few large paintings that include large areas of black paint into he has incised line drawings of leafs with a rainbow of color showing through, balanced against atmospheric areas with more drawn leafs. There is some nice color going on, some sensitive drawing, and interesting positive-negative interplay; but the overall effect is far too sweet and tricky.

And then there are the bird paintings and the crabs. It's like he has uncomfortably forced recognizable subject matter into otherwise excellent abstract paintings because he doesn't trust the public to appreciate the pure painting. Unfortunately, his apparent assessment of the taste of the general public is probably right.

Also showing is a group of five mixed-media fabric works by Marie Hassett with birds stitched over square and rectangular pieces of fabric. These are nicely unassuming decorative works.

And there are four small landscapes by Alfred Currier of barns and country homes and a small town street scene and - best of all - a cabin on a lake or river, all painting in a post-impressionist style with heavy impasto paint application. Clich├ęd perhaps, but nicely painted.

Maybe the best things in the show are a few pieces in Pate de Verra glass and steel by Lin McJunkin. I had never before heard of Pate de Verra so I Googled it. It's a form of crushed and molded glass. McJunkin's pieces are very simple and elegant. They are Coke bottle-colored and allow light through.

One other piece I liked was an extremely large raku pot by Dave and Boni Deal that stands about four feet tall and is decorated with a leafy tree painting.

For anyone who might want to give high-end decorative art for Christmas, there's no better place to show than Childhood's End. Now if we can only encourage them to bring back some artists whose work we haven't seen in a while like Shaw Osha and Marilyn Frasca and Ron Hinson. Or, if they want to keep showing Christopher Mathie, please show his newer abstract pieces.


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