In late spring the Newington-Cropsey Foundation Gallery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, presented a selection of landscapes and figure paintings by Kathi Coyle. Coyle works slowly, building up thin layers of oil paint over time. She emphasizes the duration of the process in achieving the results she wants: “Unlike a photograph, which captures one moment in time, my paintings are a composite of many moments, conveying a sense of timelessness, emotional depth and thoughtfulness.” All the landscapes on view used water as a focal point, with iced-over streams a favorite motif. The strongest of these compositions, Klein Kill Reflections (2006), deployed an elongated frieze of bare tree trunks mirrored in a half-thawed meandering stretch of water. The way the top edge of the canvas truncates the woods in the distance is formally effective, and the chill blue-grey light conveys the winter hush. Klein Kill Reflections is very wide, 30-by-60 inches, and this proportion works very well for Coyle. Wallkill Winter (2002, 36-by-72 inches) also evokes the crisp air of the season, this time moving back to show sky and a few shore-side houses. The boxier format of Closing Moments (2002, 36-by-46 inches) yields a more scattershot composition. Spindly trees, a house, the rocky stream and a human figure are observed but not really shaped into a visually meaningful whole, and the pink twilight is pervasive without adding the magic a viewer might expect. Two other landscapes are more attractive. The vertical-format Eye of the Forest depicts a cascade hurtling through rocks. The misty frieze of trees in the background is evocative, and a framing foreground tree with crooked branches and roots has striking lines. Late Summer on Chodikee Lake (2004) is unusually lush for the artist. The sky is pushed back to a far corner, and green trees and reeds cocoon the lake, dense with red-tinged waterlily pads. This is far from the visionary abstraction of Monet or the bravura ease of Sargent, but on its own terms Late Summer works well; the delicate handling of the light reed fronds shows a sure hand.
Coyle’s figure paintings are more diverse. The Morning After depicts the artist’s teenage daughter in a bathroom, just beginning to remove her dark blue formal dress. The figure is nicely framed by the doorway—the artist set up her easel in the adjoining bedroom—which works well compositionally and symbolically. Thresholds are emblematic of transitional life rituals. The girl’s dark curls and the period detail of an older house distance the image from contemporary society. The artist wanted “the piece to have a classic or almost timeless quality to it.” The perspective established by the angled door, the soft rosy light of the interior and the small oriental rug create a sense of sanctuary. With her downcast eyes and slightly bowed posture, the girl could be read as a subtle take on the Virgin of the Annunciation. The other figurative work in the show is far more ambitious and problematic. Hungersphere is an oil painting on a 22-inch wooden sphere, an extreme variation on the Renaissance tondo as well as a comment on the global resonance of human problems. “The spherical shape,” Coyle writes, “represents life as a continuum rather than a snapshot or fragment that painting on a canvas imparts.” The work, which took three and a half years to complete, depicts four stages of African subsistence: food, water, shelter and burial. The logistics of painting on a curve are clearly daunting and very different from other extended-format images, such as panoramic nineteenth-century photographs and traditional Japanese scroll paintings. Coyle compensated for potential glare by keeping values below mid-line dark and lighter values, in this case a cloudy sky, toward the top. It’s an interesting experiment, although the groups of necessarily small figures clustered at the equator rarely rise above the level of illustration. Kathi Coyle teaches from her own studio in New Paltz, New York, incorporating drawing from plaster casts and Charles Bargue’s celebrated plates, in addition to live model study and plein-air work. The Newington-Cropsey Foundation Gallery is located at 25 Cropsey Lane, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. On the Web at www.newingtoncropsey.com