As traffic runs through Boston’s historic Newbury Street, passerby dash in and out of upscale shops with designer bags from Chanel, Valentino and Tiffany & Co. Yet, at Arden Gallery, visitors are transported far beyond the bustling urban streets with art of Boston-born John Stockwell in his exhibit, “Fields of Flax and Blue Belles.”
Oil paint rises from the canvases like little mountains, as vibrant flowers bloom in rows, receding into a horizon that stretches out into endlessness. Skies are stroked with blues and whites, creating a kind of smoothness. The experience of viewing any of Stockwell’s works is one of magnitude and intensity because his impasto painting or the application of thickly-layered paint is one that lessens the space between gallery guests and the painting. It brings guests closer to it and takes them into the blooming flower rows of Sweden and its mesmeric landscapes, where Stockwell works and lives with his wife and children. Stockwell does this all without a paintbrush, as he solely uses his hands and fingers to apply paint. There is a naturalness, an almost primitiveness, that surrounds his work and aligns with his subject matter.
His painting titled “Red Rest” invites viewers in through the striking red rows of flowers in diagonals that form a one-point perspective as if viewers stand on a road that narrows. The flowers rest above muted greens and are abstracted up close due to the painting technique. The bold red color juxtaposes the cool blue sky, where a cloud composed of darker grays and blues on its side looms in from the left. No signs of human life appear, presenting an untouched, pure landscape.
“Chestnuts and Hawthorne” emits a kind of energy through its dabbles of yellow and streaks of lighter greens painted horizontally across the canvas, which meets an area of shadow. The grasses hold depth and dimension, while the leaves of the trees in the background simply become flecks of color the longer one looks at them. Viewers feel as though they are amongst the tall grasses, gazing at the trees as the expansive blue sky melts into them. The title of the piece references Chestnut trees and “Hawthorne” interestingly does not retain the same spelling as Hawthorn trees, but the American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, a possible ode to Stockwell’s New England roots.
“Effluvium” offers a similar perspective, allowing viewers to gaze across the tall grasses of navy blues, olive greens, mustard yellows and white to the trees and past them, to the clear waters below a sunny sky. The painting incorporates rows separated by darker shades of the grass, trees, water and sky. The title, “Effluvium,” signifies “to flow out,” stemming from the Latin word “effluere.” There is a certain flow to this piece because of the movement of the natural elements like the grass in the wind, but also the texture of the canvas with its dense paint and colors flowing into one another.
(“Fields of Flax and Blue Belles” remains on view through April 29 at Arden Gallery, 129 Newbury St., Boston, Massachusetts. For more information, call (617) 247-0610 or visit ardengallery.com)