The seaside village of Stony Creek, Connecticut lays under a blanket of white. The January wind whips up a dusting of confection, frosting any figure or form that stands its ground in defiance of the cold with sweet, but merciless, revenge. The Willoughby Wallace Library Art Gallery sits close by the harbor road and tonight, it welcomed guests to an exhibition entitled, Landscapes in Light: Recent Paintings by Lenny Moskowitz. Modestly appointed, the gallery and its installation of colorful works by Moskowitz served as a bastion of light and warmth against the night’s chill.
His work recalls the colors and saturated light of a summer day not so long ago. The collection of twenty-four works includes figurative paintings, a single still life and a generous presentation of landscapes, completed en plein air. The paintings reflect the spontaneity and confidence of an artist who is comfortable with bold color and equally at ease with the deconstruction of nature as abstraction. “A good painting is as much observed into existence as it is painted into existence”, the artist explains. “Paint is liquid, spontaneous and unpredictable. For me, working with an understanding of the subject, but without an attachment to the technical demands of the process, results in a more honest translation.”
Moskowitz’s trees animate in the ocean breezes of Monhegan Island, Maine, where he paints each summer. He depicts the island’s open fields, scorched by unrelenting afternoon sun, until they yield up an array of deep purple, vibrant orange and butter yellow; which for the artist’s eye, lie just beneath the surface. The island becomes a kaleidoscope of color, as pines and spruce in shades of brilliant blue and verdant greens sway against shifting clouds of pink and amber and the ever-present ultramarine ocean horizon. Leathery-brown tree trunks arise from the rugged soil, twisted, tentative and even broken by the island’s harsh and unrelenting cycle of seasons. His houses, too, appear to stand tentatively against the forces of nature, briefly rendered benign by summer’s respite. “Much takes place while painting the sky. Its resolution is always a surprise”, Moskowitz says”. “The task is to create a sense of light and represent depth. When I can manage to set aside any previous assumptions about what ‘sky’ should be…only then does it begin to work for me. Wild colors emerge as underpainting, at first, waiting to be covered by realism. Later in the painting process, I decide to leave the wildness as it is. I believe that the original spontaneous color conveys a truer experience of light and a feeling of discovery and surprise.”
right: Cabin and Boathouse, pastel on board, 13×16
Moskowitz’s paintings not only capture the spirit of the island in the tradition of the Fauvists and American Impressionists that came before him, but he brings his own unique interpretation to his subject matter. Working in thin washes of paint, he layers his subjects with a translucency and veiled impermanence that has the figures in his work appear ephemeral when viewed up close. Only when the viewer steps back, do the color washes meld to take on the finished effect of the subject at hand. Like the blind man and the elephant, Moskowitz’s paintings radiate their full intensity best when viewed from a distance. “The act of painting cannot be separated from life experience, but I do not want my paintings to look labored”, he tells me. “Each of my paintings is, in effect, a self-portrait and, like the individual, cannot easily be compartmentalized. To the extent that art is self expression, I try to put my best ‘self’ forward in every work. I try to portray my best intentions.”
This ability to create illusion with paint is the craft of the artist and in Moskowitz’s hands, the results always surprise.
By Richard Friswell, Editor-in-Chief
Landscapes in Light: Recent Paintings by Lenny Moskowitz
Willoughby Wallace Library Art Gallery
On view for the month of January, 2010