By the River
October 21-December 17, 2023
Geary Contemporary, Millerton, NY
by William Corwin, December 14, 2023
In the endless litany of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), we often miss out on one of the most important things, hearing, or seeing a novel interpretation of the world through a foreign set of eyes. Ninety-nine percent of instagram photos don’t add up to a landscape painted by Albert Bierstadt, Rosa Bonheur, Claude Monet, or in this case, Reeve Schley. View of the St. Lawrence River and Church Rocks (1995) looms over the gallery as the largest work of Schley’s latest exhibition, a mini-survey of his paintings and works on paper. As a case in point, it doesn’t depict a particularly instagram-able day—overhead clouds cast their shadows on the middle-ground and the colors are muted greens, ochres, and fuschias. In the distance past the rocks and the river shallows we can see the blue sunny land in the distance, out from under the clouds. It isn’t the view so much as the perspective standing on the bright green bluffs and almost feeling the light breeze of an overcast day at the shore that the painter has captured. Similarly, in Steg on the Isar (1970), the jetty we are about to step on to doesn’t cross a dramatic river, but a muddy levee. Schley instead invites us to compare the darker beige of the wooden planks of the walkway to the yellowy gray of the water; to notice the dark pylon supports and the white foam, and the dark green of the distant forest against the stirred up water.
The artist returns to the Church Rocks in St. Lawrence from Pointe-au-Pic (1998), using these landmarks as gestural, almost calligraphic, markers of time of day and weather. We can see the familiarity of a local, for whom the rocks are a means of locating themselves in their emotional milieu as well as geographically. They are brushed in a hazy shorthand that speaks directly to a sense of comfort in a known place. Mountains in Schley’s visual glossary are not intimidating landscape features but are analogous to the rocks as markers of season, time, and temperature. In Mustard Field (1998) the band of mountain between the field of bright yellow and cerulean blue sky offers a dark counterpoint to the flowers in blossom. While the field is almost blinding in its burst of life, the multitude of browns and dark greens in the mountains signify that spring is still a ways off. In Red Tail Hawk at the Farm (1992) the artist playfully incorporates the raptor into the landscape, curling the wing of the coasting bird around the farm buildings creating a formal ambiguity between the central figure of the bird, the bales of hay in the foreground, and the distant blue-tinted mountains.
Coloristic ambiguity seems to be a favorite question which Schley considers. In his works on paper, line is given pride of place, while washes of color seem to manifest as the light strikes form. In the watercolor Picnic Patterns (2002) the only real distinction between the seated figures at top and the boulders that comprise the body of the painting are the carefree blue and green washes distinguishing the humans (and their sun hats). In the painting Boys at the Trou (1991), the shadow cast by the main figure’s chin is as important as the tones of his tanned legs or the scarlet of his swimming trunks. Quebec Studio Porch (2005) concerns itself with the nuances of green. Schley doesn’t seem to mind if the viewer isn’t sure which greens signify different species of trees, or the shadows of branches, what we do sense is the overbearing light of the dog days of summer: a light which tends to wash out colors with its brightness. We can almost hear the cicadas clicking and flies buzzing. Precision and replication of our response to the environment is the goal of these images—the color is as ephemeral and fleeting as the time of day.