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Into the White

Art Review


Published October 22, 2007 at 6:05 p.m.

EXHIBIT: "Light" artworks by Denis Versweyveld. Amy E. Tarrant Gallery, Flynn Center, Burlington. Through September 3.

ARTWORK: "Blue Bowl" sculpture by Denis Versweyveld

White isn't a color; it's all the colors combined. White light contains the entire spectrum within it, and white pigments reflect about 80 percent of the light they receive, thus filling our eye's color receptors with "whiteness." By comparison, black pigments reflect only about 5 percent of the light that falls onto them, so we're left with "black" -- the absence of color. Other pigments reflect only certain wavelengths of light, creating the crazy quilt of complex hues that brightens our visual life.

Expect to be bombarded with reflected light when visiting Denis Verswey-veld's exhibition, entitled simply "Light," at the Flynn Center's Amy E. Tarrant Gallery. Versweyveld's aesthetic is dominated by milky whiteness; even the blues, greens, reds and other hues in his paintings are generally pale, generously blended with white. His favorite material for sculpture is raw, white plaster.

Three of those snowy sculptures make reference to classical antiquity, appearing as tall, fluted columns. "Bowl with Apples" sits atop a gently tapered column nearly 8 feet high. "Basin," beside it, is almost as tall; "Dutch Oven," sited just in front of the other two columnar pieces, is smaller than both. That graceful grouping of three verticals with differing heights elevates everyday objects into the realm of monumentality, as the taller forms are visually measured against the shorter ones. Versweyveld's plaster imparts static timelessness, like the relics and citizens from Pompeii that became plaster casts.

Mid-20th-century Italian painter Giorgio Morandi created still lifes of bowls and other vessels in empty spaces with pale backgrounds, and Versweyveld is productively mining similar turf. Some of his sculptural plaster still lifes, such as "Still Life III," are like Morandi's existentially barren images pulled into three-dimensional space. Versweyveld's paintings, however, are warmer and more loosely rendered than were Morandi's canvasses; his use of color is equally judicious, yet rich.

Versweyveld's bowls are on the indigo side of blue, bordering pale purple. They repeat the same tableau of a mixing-type bowl with a piece of fruit -- or is it a tennis ball? -- inside. In "Blue Bowl 3," the interior ball is an almost fluorescent pale green; in "Blue Bowl 4" it's yellower. Versweyveld's dryly textured handling of paint is masterful in all his canvasses, and his play within a narrow range of white-saturated values is beautifully controlled without being prissy.

Another important element in Versweyveld's paintings is his use of space. As a painter who is an equally accomplished sculptor, he appears to take into full account the depth of each picture plane.

The grayish oil paintings "Dutch Oven I" and "Dutch Oven II" are almost identical vertical compositions, but in the latter the singular lidded pot is deeper in the space and the light is more dramatic. If the Dutch-oven paintings were considered as a diptych, that slight difference in the two pots' positions would lend the works a subtle narrative of passing time.

"Still Life with Onions" is the painting seemingly most influenced by Morandi. It's a small-scale canvas portraying bowls and other items lined up on a white table. The golden cast of one of the onionskins seems to have crept into all the other forms as well as the background, like advancing sunlight at dawn.

Elegant shadows are also integral to these works. Their rich, washed-out quality results from Verseyveld's ability to create subtle shifts in value. In the larger painting "Orange Bowl #1," a spare rendition of a bowl on a box-like pedestal, he successfully captured patches of reflected light within his shadows. Verseyveld has acutely observed, and conveyed, the kind of full-spectrum reflections that bathe us in white light every day -- even in the shade.