Return to Articles


April 17 - May 30, at Terrence Rogers Gallery, Santa Monica

by Ray Zone

Michael Chapman, “Dark
Visit,” 2003, o/c, 22 x 28”.

Michael Chapman, “Apartment
for Rent” 1998, o/c, 10 x 13”.
“For me a painting is a window,” said Andre Breton, High Pope of Surrealism, “But a window on what?” This query might be usefully applied to Windows, an exhibit of four artists whose representational paintings explore the conceit of the window. Bound on four sides, occluded by frame lines and a wall, a painting may serve as a surrogate window on the real world or the interior landscape of the artist.

In the current case, four artists offer impressionistic renderings of the ostensible world, landscapes viewable through painted windows.

Michael Chapman sets the keynote for the exhibit with five paintings in which actual windows serve as the theme. In Dark Visit, the most surreal of the works, a small dog looks through a large picture window at a moose gazing back at him. The moose, with outsized antlers, stands in a cramped concrete courtyard, definitely out of its natural element. Though all the visual elements are real in this picture, the juxtaposition of the moose in the artificial environment produces a distinctly dreamlike atmosphere.

Chapman’s small painted studies, Apartment for Rent and Ocean Park Visit are visual cousins. Both are loosely rendered views out of identical windows looking out on the same street adjoining a beach. No people, only cars, populate these sun-drenched vistas suffused with quietness. The small study, Sun Filled Vacancy, depicting an empty urbanscape, seems to encapsulate the real and stated concern of the artist, which is vacancy itself. The deserted enclosure of an urban architectural space discernible through a painted window is itself an expression of emptiness.

In her large oil on panel titled View From My Window, Stephanie Sanchez captures late afternoon light in Long Beach. A single towering palm tree and adjacent telephone poles among stucco buildings lend vertical thrust to this placid, yet oddly eclectic, scene. A considerably smaller and similar oil on panel work titled Street in Koreatown depicts telephone poles wandering among stucco structures against an uneventful sky of azure and soft pink. The two works, Ballona Creek with Storm Clouds and LA River Looking East are traditional horizontal landscapes except that, as one would expect in Los Angeles, concrete predominates.

Stephanie Sanchez, "Ballona Creek with
Storm Clouds," 2004, oil on panel, 20 x 37".

Stephanie Sanchez, "View from My Window,
Long Beach," 2004, oil on panel, 46 x 30".

Patricia Chidlaw, “Interior at
Phillipe’s,” 2004, 28 x 28”.

Patricia Chidlaw, “Night
Light," 2004, 16 x 12”.
Both Chapman’s and Sanchez’s paintings are very loosely rendered in something of a Plein Air style. Patricia Chidlaw lays paint on canvas with somewhat greater precision in her archetypal views of Los Angeles. The signature work, Interior at Phillipe’s, is a beautiful study of the light in this typically busy eatery. Here, a lone patron is seen sitting at a table next to windows which transmit horizontal patterns of sunlight into the quiet space.

Chidlaw’s work Night Light is an obsessively rendered view of steps leading up to an apartment building and an elephant-ear rubber plant behind which a concealed light splays luminance and shadow up the face of the building. This is the kind of scene normally neglected in real life, yet Chidlaw directs our attention to its elegant, formal qualities. A highly detailed nocturnal painting titled Newsstand on Wilshire Boulevard is urban landscape painting at its strongest. The prosaic point of view, that of a pedestrian waiting for a stoplight to change, is invested with a supernal consideration of the qualities of light in the setting.

Mitchell Johnson’s oil on linen paintings capture a considerably different quality of light. That is, perhaps, because they were painted in the Italian countryside. In Los Angeles there is a flat quality to the light. In Italy light blazes and the natural world is thus sharply etched. The two paintings Antonio’s Farm and Mt. Oliveto (Yellow) exemplify this difference. Trees and buildings stand in sharp contrast to the surrounding hills and fields. Works titled Tractor with Stripes and Two Rock Dairy also incorporate hard-edged light and shadow alongside primary colors. These stand in contrast to the other works in the exhibit.

The painted windows in this neo-traditionalist exhibit are a notable attempt to capture a local quality of light and space. It is a show that the late James Doolin, the foremost painter of Los Angeles’ unique luminosity, would have hailed. These landscapes bespeak the Valley of the Smokes of our native forebears.

Mitchell Johnson, "Tractor with
Stripes," 2004, oil on linen, 14 x 26".

Mitchell Johnson, "Antonio's
Farm," 2004, oil on linen, 56 x 72".