Answering The Call Of The Wild
by Arlene Distler
The paintings and prints in the Jules Olitski “Lakes, Mountains, Seas” exhibition currently on view at Keene State College’s Thorne- Sagendorph Gallery show an artist who was still in full command of his creative powers in the last decade of his life. He died in 2007 at age 84.
The show consists of paintings the artist made on site during or that were inspired by his summers on Bear Island in Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. He had a house on the lake since the 1970s. Olitski had a special relationship with the Thorne-Sagendorph, which the gallery honors with this show, part of a celebration of its 50th anniversary. “Sea of Paradise” (60” x 84”) is perhaps the “WOW!” painting in the show. It is front and center as one enters the first room of the exhibit. Yellows and oranges thrust up like molten lava, meeting purple, wine- red mountains and gray sky.
These elements, though, are not clearly tethered to near or distant ground, horizon or sky. The initial impact, rather, is of an artist in love with paint and painting. Olitski was clearly a prodigious force as an artist he was in his seventies and eighties when he created this work.
Olitski was at his best when the sweeping physicality of his painting had full reign. In the large paintings, the acrylic gels could be applied almost as clay, building up motion and texture. But these landscapes, unlike his purely abstract work, are anchored and structured by what is seen. This gives the work a gravity and complexity that I don’t find in the purely abstract work of his late years.