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Expanded Horizons

Art Review


Published August 17, 2005 at 4:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT: "Sessions in Light: Lake Champlain Series," acrylic paintings by Kasy Prendergast. Doll-Anstadt Gallery, Burlington. Through August.

ARTWORK: "Love Lost" by Kasy Prendergast

Kasy Prendergast is artistically descended from Claude Monet. The Impressionist master is credited as the first artist to paint a series taking time into account. Two of his earliest series, of haystacks and Rouen Cathedral in the early 1890s, presented landscape subjects in a variety of weather conditions and times of day. Prendergast's current exhibition, "Sessions in Light: Lake Champlain Series," at the Doll-Anstadt Gallery, doesn't assiduously follow the nuances of traversing sunlight, as did Monet's initial series. However, she clearly considered shifting light a co-conspirator in the creation of her richly textured acrylic paeans to the beauty of our "sixth Great Lake."

The grittiest of these works is entitled simply "Lake Champlain." All of Prendergast's compositions show little more than firmament above a horizon line and the earth below. "Lake Champlain" is a vertical, monochromatic piece in burnt sienna, with the horizon line located in the upper tenth of the painting. The earthbound area seems to have been generously blended with beach sand, a mixedmedia approach that is ideal for use with acrylic.

Prendergast's Lake Champlain series includes large and small paintings, but even the largest, "Lake Champlain," is still fairly modest in size -- no more than 2 feet tall. The smallest are the six paintings collectively entitled "5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Lake Champlain (series)." They measure only about 12 inches square.

In her small pieces, Prendergast heightened the colors and subtly altered the height of the horizons. But less subtly, she shifted values in an identical way across the six paintings. All have lighter tonalities above the horizon on the right side and below the horizon on the left side. The only real weakness of Prendergast's paintings is that her simplicity can appear formulaic. Her repetitive method of sliding values from one side to the other horizontally, as revisited in "Winter" and several other works here, appears to be done by rote.

The paintings entitled "Bending Light," "Love Lost" and "Evening Arrives," on the other hand, are full of surprises. In "Bending Light," Prendergast buries the horizon line in a flurry of acidic green smears and slashes within a field of Naples yellow both above and below the line. This technique recalls another French Impressionist -- Edouard Manet -- who introduced the novelty of slightly bent horizon lines into his work. Prendergast's obfuscation of the horizon actually serves to create deeper space than would a razor-sharp line. It's also notable that she didn't resort to the overused sliding-values trick in "Bending Light," but instead built totally original textures, and even included an uncharacteristic green rectangle near the upper edge of the flattened picture plane.

"Love Lost" is a powerful vertical painting with numerous scratches clawing up the left side of the canvas. White is scumbled over what appear to be layers of red oxide below the low horizon, while milky-white glazes are slathered over scrapes along the right side of the painting.

The extremely high horizon of "Evening Arrives" is squeezed into the top edge of the painting. Like "Lake Champlain," it's an almost monochromatic, burnt-sienna work, but its textures are less rough -- more painterly than earthy. This is also a very calm painting, befitting the poetry of its title.

Though she's described as "a young artist" on the Doll-Anstadt website, Prendergast paints with great authority and confidence. She might be advised to let her style develop naturally, without succumbing to the commercial pressure of a tried-and-true formula for easy pigeonholing. Painters as good as she is deserve unlimited horizons.