of winter: Litchfields Pupil.
By David Brickman
Henry, Sandra Litchfield and Harry Orlyk: Paintings
Gallery 100, through June
It has been a fact of life in the Capital Region for at least
25 years that commercial galleries come and go, but that few
manage to stay. Lately we have seen the addition of several
such ventures (including Martinez Gallery in Troy and Firlefanz
Gallery in Albany), each of which has its own style and following.
Perhaps the most promising of these efforts—at least from
the marketing standpoint—is year-old Gallery 100 in Saratoga
Helmed by equal partners Jim Lowe and Deb Martin (who are
also partners in private life), the gallery occupies a clean,
well-lit space one flight up from Broadway, a shopper’s paradise
that is busy year-round and enjoys very heavy commerce during
the summer’s ballet and track seasons.
As the cliché says, location is the first three keys to retail
success, but, in the gallery business, vision and salesmanship
are also crucial factors, and Martin (a painter with her MFA
from the University at Albany) and Lowe (the former manager
of a large pharmaceutical sales force) appear to have them
In terms of artistic direction, G100 represents an eclectic
mix of regional and national artists working in mostly two-
and three-dimensional media (except photography for the time
being), with a strong leaning toward landscape. The current
showcase exhibition featuring three painters is exemplary
of this stance: J.M. Henry hails from North Carolina; Sandra
Litchfield is based in western Massachusetts; and Harry Orlyk,
a native of Cohoes, lives in rural Washington County. All
three derive inspiration from nature and the land in creating
Henry presents 10 mixed-media paintings on paper, ranging
from about 8 inches square to perhaps two feet across, all
of which reflect an ethereal quality reminiscent of monoprints.
In each case, Henry has prepared a textured ground and drawn
from a small piece of nature—usually a sprig of some plant—to
develop a sort of visual haiku about the shape and gesture
of the subject matter.
While his motifs move toward the abstract, they remain sufficiently
grounded in perceived reality that the viewer is never left
unsure of what it is he or she is looking at. Whereas pure
abstraction invites the viewer to freely bring his or her
own interpretation to the work, Henry’s instead offers up
his poetical interpretation of the subject for the viewer’s
pleasure and inspection.
Among these, Locust Variation and Ornament II
stand out for their simplified compositions and celebration
of leaf forms, while Wreath II takes the leaf motif
further into a pattern bordering on decoration. Henry’s strongest
piece in this show is titled Broken Wreath. It uses
subtle shifts in color and form, and a well-placed thumbprint,
to evoke emotional damage from some just-passed storm.
Litchfield also mixes media—and realism with abstraction—to
create small and large paintings that are mostly readable
as landscapes. Unlike Henry, who uses color sparingly, Litchfield
revels in it, whether as rich, translucent watercolor on white
paper or in big swaths of thick oil on aluminum. She also
incorporates large areas of collaged digital photography into
her paintings, accomplishing this in a smoothly blended fashion
that intrigues without being too distracting.
I like Litchfield’s bold attacks on composition, whether large
and in-your-face or small and subtle. In the diminutive studies
(there are four, all untitled), white space is given free
reign, but it doesn’t dominate the intently shaped and colored
areas of paint and collage. These are very appealing little
games of cut-and-paste that any retired child will delight
in—but the adult in each of us will also appreciate the artist’s
care in the process.
In two much larger pieces, Litchfield takes big risks that
pay off. Shriek rends the sky of a 4-foot-square landscape
with an arcing strip of red, conjuring a feeling that Alfred
Hitchcock, or Stephen King, is not far away. And in the watery-blue
Pupil, a big, black ball of confusion blasts through
the icy coolness of winter serenity. These pieces show that
Litchfield is trying to do more than just enjoy the landscape
or her comfort with paint and scissors.
Then again, maybe just enjoying the landscape is all some
artists need to do. In the case of Orlyk, whose brilliant
paintings first flashed on my consciousness 22 years ago,
it is more than enough.
The 16 modestly scaled oils on linen that Orlyk has contributed
to this show were all created in a five-week period from December
2002 to February 2003—that’s a rate of a painting about every
two days—and each one is gorgeous.
While some colorists would shy away from all that snow (you
remember this winter), Orlyk has made it his bitch. Oh, you
think snow is white, gray, maybe brown? Try orange, purple—green.
Or, as is more common in these paintings, the most delicious
buttery yellow you ever saw and weren’t allowed to eat. Orlyk
paints snow like a man in the midst of a Provençal summer,
with the passion and intensity of his idol Vincent; and just
as well as Van Gogh did France, Orlyk does Washington County.
Not that there’s nothing but the icy stuff in these paintings—they
have skies and mountains, barns and houses, trucks and tractors
too, and they’re all vibrantly captured—but it is the way
he paints the snow that is driving me crazy.
By the way, Orlyk broke new ground for this show by making
a few paintings at the Saratoga Race Course (in the snow,
naturally), but one can’t help feeling that this is a bit
forced. His real passion is reserved for the land he knows
intimately—whether a panoramic masterpiece like Belcher
Heights (about half of which is dazzling, heliotrope-shadowed
snow) or the Robert Frosty Dream Catcher, in which
light and shadows (on—you guessed it—snow) perform an unforgettable
dance with trees, a chain-link fence and a nearby stream.
If you’ve never seen a group of unframed oils by Harry Orlyk,
do yourself a favor and catch this exhibition at one of the
region’s hot new galleries. That and other rewards await you