by John O'Brien

(Cirrus Gallery, Downtown) In Gillian Theobald's new paintings she manifests an abiding interest in the way in which monochromatic color fields and natural processes can be intersected to create works of multi-layered resonance. The paintings are done in a series simply titled Night, and are ordered in a numerical sequence reminiscent of the nomenclature of early non-objective art. There are a few larger formats in the exhibition, but the majority are diminutive (12" x 12"), modular canvases that explore a kind of archetypal nightscape. Containing the minimum necessary to be identified as a skyline at dusk, the paintings develop a series of meditations on subdued, blue tones. Moving from the reddish to the slightly purple or into pale green, each study captures the quality of luminosity present at nightfall.

Little, save the occasional starkly defined tree branch, mars these soft, glowing expanses of oil paint. I call these compositions archetypal because the landscape represented in the paintings is willfully constructed so that it is precisely halfway between a credible depiction of nature and a purely abstract color study.

The huddled bunches of trees which are silhouetted along the lower edge of most of the canvases could just as easily be cloud formations, and the skies rendered above the tree line are continuous, modulated color fields presented without weather or astronomy. In this way, the oddly stereotypical features of the paintings are suddenly turned into vehicles for formal painting values once the viewer notices these anomalies. And this is the kind of reversal which has run like a leitmotif through much of the artist's past work--from the images of water done in the late eighties through the sky/air works from the ninties.

Theobald has always been interested in the way in which a sharply defined set of thematic parameters coupled with a rich, sensuous palette can trigger the viewer's imagination.

With this latest body of work, she continues this project, privileging the dimensions of mystery and of melancholy. It is particularly appropriate for an artist whose work is simultaneously a study of nature, a process of abstract painting and a psychological projection that the theme of her series be dusk. At this time, eyesight is at its weakest for most daytime animals. Their sense of uncertainty is at its highest. It is understandable, therefore, that dusk is oftentimes the temporal site for epic, mythological transformations.

The waning light of the day, it turns out, is also the ideal painterly moment to investigate if you want to underline the tremendous ambiguity of color perception. Theobald has found a way to make us notice some of the subterranean linkages between our natural and narrative understanding (or is that misunderstanding of color?), and has created some visually striking art work in the meantime.

"Night #19", alkyd/oil on canvas, 12 x 12", 1996.


"Night #3", alkyd/oil on
canvas, 12 x 12", 1995.


"Night #15", alkyd/oil on canvas, 12 x 12", 1995.


"Night #9", alkyd/oil on
canvas, 12 x 12" 1995.