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by Judith Christensen

“Long Life Restaurant,"
o/c, 40 x 26", 1999

"Late Train", o/c, 22 x 22", 1999.

"Freightliner and Peterbilt",
o/c, 22 x 42", 1999.

"Blue Room", o/c, 28 x 28", 1999.
(Terrence Rogers Fine Art, Santa Monica) The scenes in Patricia Chidlaw’s paintings are ordinary ones: the front of a bowling alley at night; the interior of a bar or restaurant; poolside at a motel; a quirky roadside attraction; a deserted urban street. Though populated, people don’t reside here. They come, then go, stopping long enough to eat, sleep, get gas, or be entertained for a while. These are places with their own cycle of life, which, at first, appears distinct from that of nature, given the urban character of the scenes in these oil paintings. Yet ultimately, here too, the ebb and flow of people echoes the change from night to day, then night again.

Even the places Chidlaw presents as deserted suggest the presence of people at another time, perhaps another day. The lawn chairs in Morning Pool are empty, as is the swimming pool. It’s still surface reflects the second-floor balconies of the motel that surrounds it. The repetition--the line of identical chairs, the pattern of the tile at the pool’s edge and the rooms, indistinguishable one from another with their sliding glass doors and metal railing--creates a sense of order and calm. But Chidlaw’s colors--the chartreuse of the lawn and the pink against turquoise on the lawn chairs--and the sharp zigzagging line of the pool’s edge provide an undercurrent of uneasiness. The scenes are reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s; Chidlaw’s execution, however, is not. Their mood is more akin to that of a Raymond Carver story.

Her most successful paintings evoke a sense of possibility rather than actuality. And it is the smallest details that embody this potential. There is a single couple dining in Long Life Restaurant. The orange lanterns are lit, but it is still daytime, as light from outside washes through the front window. Dishes leftover from other customers are on two of the tables. The other tables are clean, empty, not yet set for the next wave of customers. This pair, alone, is out of sync with the crowds that might have been here earlier or are expected later. The view is long and narrow. It could be the corner of a large restaurant, but cropping it this way evokes a sense of intimacy. The person whose back we see is leaning forward, elbow on the table, suggesting a conversation so private that, even though they are alone, they use hushed tones. The huge fish on the wall seems out of place here. Yet its placement, directly over their heads, appears like a parenthesis, further separating these two from the rest of humanity.

Chidlaw’s views are not the new urbanization--strip malls, high rises, glass and steel. Her subject matter is buildings and scenes with a history. Rarely does she show them during peak hours. This engenders a sense of waiting--for example, the single woman at the bar in Blue Room--and of expectation--the empty lawn chairs of Morning Pool--which enhances the feeling that the whole story about this place is not revealed in a single glance. There’s more to be seen, more to be known--past, present and future.