Whitney Brooks Abbott
At the Easton Gallery, through April 2.
“The Last Walnut,” the centerpiece of Whitney Brooks Abbott’s current show at the Easton Gallery, empties itself to make room for what takes place there. Nothing but a pale, butter-colored driveway extends across the lower half of the three-foot-square canvas, while a gray barn tucks itself discreetly into the middle-ground on one side. Thus, although the tree is not exactly in the center of the composition, it feels as if it is, painted in purples, grays, near-magentas, and almost-mahoganies. In the canopy, the brushwork interweaves the colors of the tree itself with the livelier greens of the background and the muted yellows of the sky. Abbott captures not just the look of bare limbs backlit by a low sun on an overcast day, but also the dizzy, nearly delirious feeling one has staring up into those branches. A viewer who might look down in search of solid ground only finds another source of unsteady exhilaration in the shadow of that same tree, wavering gently across the foreground. This shadow pools and stretches like a revelation, dry-brushed in places with a palette of lavender, lilac, something near white, and hints of blue.
Smaller works offer other impressive passages. Several of the landscapes, including “Turning,” feature a yellowing sky and carry it off with aplomb. The loose brushwork and flexible palette emulate not only the glow of the sky itself, but also that turquoise tinge one expects to see above the trees at such a moment.
The consistent, prominent brushwork testifies that Abbott is more than merely skillful. A strong, regular stroke can be dangerous. Get it wrong and it looks like one is merely doing oversized embroidery: everything gets rote, repetitious, pretend-Impressionist. But get it right, as Abbott does, and one invites the viewer to see visions. In these paintings, we are allowed to witness the graceful interplay as the subject adapts itself to the artist and the artist adapts herself to the subject. Everything — at least in the universe of the painting — really is a part of something larger, even as it manifests itself in its poignant particularity.
The studies, not surprisingly, are as compelling as the finished works. I spent a long time with “The Edge of the Green Study II,” marveling at the yellow-green field of grass, the glowing citrine sky, and the dark olive-brown-gray band of trees, all set off by a small, bald sweep of periwinkle, the faraway ocean shining through.