EXHIBIT: Jill Barthorpe, landscape and still-life paintings. Clarke Galleries at Cold Comfort Farm, Stowe. Through November 13.
ARTWORK"Coral Geraniums" by Jill Barthorpe
British painter Jill Barthorpe creates a crystalline world of light and color by cutting facets into space, the way a lapidary shapes a gem. Her 40 oil landscapes and still lifes, now appearing at Clarke Galleries at Cold Comfort Farm in Stowe, capture shimmering moments in time. Barthorpe, a graduate of the prestigious Slade School of Art in London, has garnered an international reputation from her 20-year career. This exhibition demonstrates why her paintings are so highly esteemed.
Barthorpe cuts and crafts slivers of light in a Cezanne-esque manner, focusing on the geometric properties of her subjects as well as the spaces that surround them. Her penchant for disassembling, polishing and reconstructing planes is especially apparent in her still lifes. An example is "Coral Geraniums." The 28-by-20-inch painting depicts a gray ceramic vase full of leafy flowers with small, red petals; the vase stands on a surface that slopes to the right. Behind it is a wall painted in two varieties of gray.
Barthorpe's geraniums leap like fireworks against the neutral background, and yet color isn't what makes the painting most memorable. A gossamer vertical rectangle, perhaps an implied windowpane, is superimposed over the central axis of "Coral Geraniums." It seems suspended in nothingness, independent of naturalistic space. Such abstract planes invigorate all of Barthorpe's canvasses.
Most of the show's autumnal landscapes were created while she was an artist-in-residence and a guest of gallery proprietors J. Grier Clarke and Gunnel Clarke. Other paintings are reflections upon Barthorpe's native England. She geometrizes clouds and hillsides with the same vigor evident in her still lifes.
"Big Country II" is a sweeping, 36-by-36-inch painting of a crescent-shaped swath of pasture, ascending upwards toward a distant ridge of purple mountains. A lush forest borders the upper right of the pasture, and meadows are at left. Barthorpe finds geometric patterns in the landscapes and sky, which often become progressively smaller as the space becomes deeper, as if the sfumato of her aerial perspective has solidified into overlapped layers of ice.
"Young Pear Tree" and "Cold Comfort Farm" are both larger than "Big Country II," yet paradoxically the 48-by-40-inch canvasses seem less monumental. That's due to the scale of the images as well as the backgrounds, which are shallower than those in the panoramic paintings with mountain vistas. In this way the larger paintings seem more intimate than the smaller ones.
"Young Pear Tree" immortalizes an ordinary fruit tree in the artist's yard. As with many of Barthorpe's still lifes, the tree is positioned on an angle rather than a horizontal line. The tree is also intensely lit, casting a shadow onto the lawn that resembles a six-fingered hand. Leafy shrubs and foliage, in a broad array of greens and blues, form a backdrop to the scene.
"Cold Comfort Farm" describes a stand of trees in the fall, and the painting was created during the artist's residency at the farm. Its white clouds and icy, cerulean-blue sky are among the most abstract firmaments in this show. The view looks directly into a forest, which is separated from viewers by a row of fence posts at the edge of the trees. The posts recede without shrinking in linear perspective, simply drifting into dark shadows. Barthorpe's Vermont foliage crescendos in a symphony of autumnal hues, which dissolve into atmospheric rhythms along the top edge of the canvas.
In her artist's statement Barthorpe writes, "My approach to colour is to distill the essence and define the point of change, rather than model the surface." By doing so she hints at deeper truths in the observed landscape.