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Anyone who has been mesmerized by the uncanny hues that filter through the nighttime sky will find Jane Wilson’s art true to life. Ms. Wilson’s paintings are landscapes in whicht he land itself makes but a brief and understated appearance. Her images are governed–“dominated” is too strong a word–by skies.
Her subject is the expansiveness of space and the mutability of light. The closely valued gradations of Wilson’s palette–the grays that fold into pinks and oranges in Sleeping Moon (1999), for instance–have a cottony, evocative shimmer. The horizontal subdivisions of her landscapes recall the paintings of Mark Rothko. Ms. Wilson, however, isn’t given to melancholy or fussiness. Scrubbing pigment across the cavas as if she were cleaning out her brush, the paintings are gratifyingly loose-limbed. Ms. Wilson has stated that her paintings come “out of my bones”. The work has a take-it-or-leave-it physicality.
Notwithstanding their panoramic vistas, the paintings remain insistently flat. Ms. Wilson uses thinned pigments and scrapes down her surface with a palette knife so that the grain of the canvas unapologetically asserts itself. The elemental Blue Weather (1999) hardly seems to hold paint at all. Yet it is, like the rest of the paintings, full-bodied if not lush.
There’s a reticence to Ms. Wilson’s vision; the work’s momentum is deliberate. We don’t look at the paintings so much as soak them in. Her art has a spiritual component–the fear of God lurks, I think, in the Ryderesque Storm at Sunset (1999). But its awe and compositional viewpoint remain grounded in a distinctly human experience.
It’s fashionable to feel that an engagement with nature–or, for that matter, with the art of painting–has become all but impossible. Wilson’s art contradicts both conceits with paintings that are, by turns, majestic and plain-spoken.
© 1999 Mario Naves
A version of this review originally appeared in the May 3, 1999 edition of The New York Observer.