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Lesley Vance

Art New England, May/June 2012 


Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Curated by Diana K. Tuite
Brunswick, Maine

By Craig Stockwell

first saw the work of Lesley Vance at the Whitney Biennial in 2010. It stood out. Five small paintings with brilliant luminous sweeps of oily paint enfolded in a dark surround. The experience was one of simultaneously viewing pre-Modern still life and conceptualism. Occasionally I encounter work that is remarkably simple and extraordinarily right. These paintings are that.

The best of current painting has layers of reference yet also delivers with sensual immediacy. Vance's paintings come into being through a rich and referenced process. She possesses the technical expertise and experience of having mastered traditional still life painting. She understands luminosity. Her affection appears to be for the austerity and color of seventeenth century Spanish still life. Her method consists of photographing strongly lit still life arrangements of natural objects in a boxed-in setting. She then works with sweeping palette-knife gestures and big brushstrokes to produce a semblance of the original still life. There are no recognizable objects, yet the viewer recognizes that they are in the realm of still life. There is a feel of still life and yet what's there is paint. The colors and illusions of depth are there surrounded by the dark. It is a rich, intimate and evocative semblance. A nocturne is an image conceived in the fading light of day wherein all of our senses are engaged to interpret dim and disconnected information. Vance achieves this.

There is a clarity to the process of creating these paintings that roots the work in conceptual rigor and the vicissitudes of chance. Each painting is painted in one day, all one wet surface. Vance is not interested in developing an image through painstaking painterly exploration; she delivers an image that was pre-created in the original photo set-up. This link to photography places her painting within very current image making concerns and distances it from the very tangible involvement with traditional still life. The paintings play out the most persistent of abstraction's issues, the conversation between control and abandon...strategy and improvisation. Vance maintains a commitment to consistency of scale; all of the paintings are small. The twenty-one works included in the exhibit include some watercolors as well as the oil paintings.