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The Elemental Speech Of Quiet Paintings

THERE is something odd about Maureen Gallace's paintings: They seem simple-minded and visionary at once. It makes them disarming if we bother to look at them.

I say bother because there is a great deal about these small landscapes that just doesn't get bothered with. For example, they show no special consideration toward their medium or craft. Indeed, they are much more than modest, even puritan. What they do, they do so strangely that we must wonder if we are imagining things.

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Looking at only one of her paintings, it would seem almost necessary to dismiss her primitive approach to imagemaking as amateurish and to dismiss any inclinations to endow the work with qualities that are beyond it.

This was my first reaction to the work. Gallace's flat little origami-like barns floating in a sea of undistinguished trees and bushes did almost nothing for me. They told me nothing about painting or landscape to begin with.

But then they went to work, and their filtered, soft, and shadowy light affected me in the most peculiar sort of way: I felt almost lost, as when a storm is coming.

Gallace's work is a wash of light: the gray sea of light and life all around us. The barns in the middle of it all are not what they seem. Like cold- weather barns, they have no openings. Are they light houses? Life boats? Or constructs that act as both?

These little paintings are frightening because they speak of a vastness that is overwhelming to our head-in-the-sand lives.

They approach the apocalyptic. They play the role of Cassandra, speaking with a positively shrill quietude. Oddly enough, they also offer us a kind of hope that comes with every warning, if we listen.

This makes them very large and remarkable paintings.

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The truth is that there is a kind of questioning and, at the same time, revitalizing of values at play here. These paintings speak of going back to the land, back to simplicity, back to primary experience. Maybe it is not so surprising that this is the work of a New York artist.

Gallace has stripped away the need for big, impressive, and over-produced fortification to compensate for the vulnerability of a single poetic act of human expression.

She uses prestretched canvasses and a very untutored painting technique - the stuff at anyone's fingertips - and she goes somewhere alone to bring back a little light. It is art for the tender sensibility, a rare find.

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