American painter Lois Dodd has persisted in painting her vision, steadfastly following an aesthetic that has evolved slowly, indifferent to art trends and fads, continuing to produce work that is provocative and fulfilling.
Dodd’s work spanning nearly 50 years is collected in a tidy show of a dozen and a half paintings at the List Gallery in Lang Performing Arts Center at Swarthmore College, where she is Donald J. Gordon visiting artist for 2016-17. Vital and wry in her 90th year of age, Dodd visited Swarthmore recently for the opening of the show and a public talk at LPAC with show curator and List Gallery director Andrea Packard and art critic Faye Hirsch, who is cataloguing Dodd’s work over the years.
The show, entitled “Windows and Reflections,” contains paintings united by the theme of vision and observation. Many of the works use windows as a subject, and as a lens on other subjects. Other works use metaphorical windows, framing objects in a geometric convergence of structures or tree branches, and through apertures like bridges or bordered areas such as ponds. The paintings seem uncommonly engaging, appealing to the viewer’s own desire to observe and explore the elements framed by these windows.
Hirsch commented to Dodd that since her early 1950s days as a member of the cooperative Tanager Gallery in New York City’s Chelsea, “You’ve been insistent on painting what you see,” in contrast to the abstract expressionists who were ascendant then. “To me, what I’m painting is abstraction,” Dodd responded, later agreeing with Packard’s observation that her painting is a process of “distilling the complexity in the natural world.”
Many of the works in the show are “life size” canvases and panels that bring the viewer right into the scene, and using this engagement to “speak to you like another human presence,” Faye Hirsch noted. The sense of being not alone, of seeing a hint of someone real or ghostly through the windows, may add a sense of melancholy and retrospect in paintings of derelict buildings [“Window, Abandoned House, Blairstown”], or of possibility and mystery of other lives to views from a Chelsea window [“Night Sky Loft”].
Hirsch further suggested that the window paintings give “a bit of a trompe l’oeil feeling,” in the tradition of American realist painters famously collected at the Brandywine River Museum. Dodd also acknowledged the frequent connections drawn between her work and another famous local, Andrew Wyeth, who shared with Dodd both an affinity for pastoral scenes and a long career painting in Maine. Dodd’s work evokes similar feelings of discovery and agreeable solitude, and a reverence for essential drama of the natural world. Curator Andrea Packard noted to Dodd, “You identify a very striking viewpoint and then you distill it so that it’s remarkable. Your paintings of nature make us understand nature differently.”
Dodd responded, “There are things that nature does that somehow you feel you have to pay attention to and notice. If that apple tree [in “Apple Trees and Shed”] doesn’t want to be noticed, I don’t know what does. There’s nothing you can take for granted about the out of doors, and the fact that everything is changing as you’re looking at it just adds to the excitement. Sometimes I feel like a reporter. Nature’s doing this thing; I have to report it.”
This compact exhibition is delightful, inside and out. It will be at the List gallery in LPAC through December 15. Hurry there, but take your time once you arrive.