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Double Vision

Art Review


Published October 5, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT:Virginia McNeice & Arleen Targan, new paintings. Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery, Shelburne. Through October 18.

ARTWORK: "Among Trees" by Arleen Targan

Virginia McNeice and Arleen Targan share a love of the bucolic. Their vibrant show of paintings at Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery in Shelburne consists primarily of expressive landscapes, and a few still lifes by Vermonter Targan. She also produced nearly all the show's oils, while New York State artist McNeice contributed the pastels.

A passage from Henry David Thoreau's 1864 book The Maine Woods could easily describe McNeice's pastel of the same title -- and, for that matter, several other pieces in the show. Thoreau wrote, "The vision I have in my mind's eye, still, is of the small, dark, and sharp tops of tall fir and spruce trees, and pagoda-like arbor-vitæs, crowded together on each side, with various hard woods, intermixed." McNeice's pastel has the same elements, but with more color, including a forest floor blanketed with raw-sienna pine needles.

McNeice is a solid pastel practitioner, as her work "Blue Morning" illustrates. The piece has a variety of visual textures. Foreground grass is scruffy, with lighter hues layered over deeper, dark ones. A hulking English barn at right is described with diagonal strokes. The sky is a pale yellowish-white.

McNeice's only oil painting in the show is "The High Road," a 30-inch-square vista that portrays a misty hilltop; a section of rural road can be seen over the meadow and beneath the hill's crest. The work has a moodiness similar to that of "Blue Morning."

While McNeice favors realism, Targan seems more attuned to abstraction, and her paintings feel expansive regardless of scale. In "Crab Apple," two fiery mauve fruit trees brighten an ethereal landscape of rolling hills. The structure referred to in "House Among the Trees" is nearly invisible, buried in a welter of feathery brushwork. Three clumps of trees march across the horizontal composition, dividing foreground greens and yellows from background blues and lavender.

Targan's "Among Trees" is even more abstract. Its subjects seem to melt into the surrounding space, almost completely losing their representational aspect.

A show consisting entirely of Targan's still lifes would be just as strong as her present tandem exhibition with McNeice. Like her landscapes, Targan's still lifes are only barely representational; she seems to use the genre as simply a means to an end. Subject matter often has little to do with the actual creation of a painting. The formal qualities of color, form and composition are what matter. Still lifes provide those elements with a context.

Targan's "Still Life with Swiss Chard" and "Still Life with Cauliflower" are similarly composed canvasses with vertical and horizontal axes near the center of each. Circular garden vegetables are placed around a clear vase with water that holds linear elements -- standing vegetables. Targan's colors are perfectly keyed to each other, with light blues, purples and complementary yellows and red-orange. Her brushwork ranges from slashing to buttery in both paintings.

This is not the first time McNeice and Targan have shared a venue. The two artists collaborated on an 8-by-8-foot landscape for the Agricultural Steward Association -- a nonprofit that protects farmland -- in Washington County, New York. Their mural helped the ASA draw crowds to the county fair. If it was as bright and well executed as the works in the Furchgott Sourdiffe show, the mural surely was a main attraction.