Simple Beauty of Lois Dodd
In terms of a sustained vision of everyday beauty, painter Lois Dodd would be hard to beat. Since the 1950s, Dodd has pursued a simple, direct, pleasurable approach to painting the stuff of ordinary life — the landscapes around her, the environments she inhabits, her gardens and yards, her homes and her friends — all depicted in a sure, brushy confection of painterly realism that never seems dated.
Now, in her 81st year, Lois Dodd has simultaneous exhibitions opening this spring at the two poles of her existence: New York City and Maine.
The Alexandre Gallery, a New York gallery that primarily represents artists with connections to Maine and New England, is presenting Lois Dodd: Landscapes and Structures, an exhibition of some 45 paintings of Maine and the Delaware Water Gap region of New Jersey.
The nonprofit Center for Maine Contemporary Art has mounted Lois Dodd: Directly Considered, a retrospective exhibition of 50 mostly small-scale paintings done directly from nature as opposed to in the studio.
Later this summer, Dodd’s work will also be featured in a group show at the Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, Maine, not far from her summer home in Cushing.
Lois Dodd is a pioneer of the contemporary realist colony of New York artists who migrated to the Maine coast in the mid-20th century when abstraction was all the rage and representational painting was somewhat out of fashion. Her peers in this regard include painters such as Rackstraw Downes, Alex Katz, Yvonne Jacquette, Fairfield Porter, and Neil Welliver.
For many years, Dodd has made her summer home in Cushing, a rural community has also been the home of the late sculptor Bernard “Blackie” Langlais, the photorealist painter Alan Magee, and the iconic Maine painter Andrew Wyeth. Indeed, the motoring hordes pass right by Dodd’s modest little farmhouse and studio barn on their way to Hathorne Point to visit the Olson House, the cultural landmark celebrated in Wyeth’s Christina’s World. On the whole, I prefer Lois’s World.
As easily overlooked as it is, Lois Dodd’s artistic world is rich in simple, elemental forms both natural and cultural. As painter and critic Robert Berlind wrote in 2004, Dodd possesses a Shaker-like “gift to be simple,” a capacity for embracing only what is essential in the material world. Her paintings are almost artless in the best sense of the word: natural, free from deceit, genuine.
Over her long career she has focused her gentle attentions on a number of recurring motifs: from the trees in her yard to the flowers in her neighbor’s garden; from the framing quality of doors and windows to the sheltering structures of houses, barns, and sheds; from nudes in the landscape to the dance of the moon and stars across the night sky.
There’s an appealing empiricism and pragmatism to Dodd’s vision — a solid and appreciative grasp of what passes before her eyes and through her hands to the canvas or, as often as not in her recent plein air paintings, small pieces of aluminum flashing.
Lois Dodd is among the purest painters in America. Her paintings are plain, frank, and humble, speaking quietly to the essential goodness of life in an age when much of contemporary art is obsessed with dysfunction and despair. Her vision is thus not only wonderfully sustained but also sustaining.
Lois Dodd: Landscapes and Structures, April 10-May 29, Alexandre Gallery, 41 East 57th St., New York NY. 212-755-2828; www.alexandregallery.com
Lois Dodd: Directly Considered, April 26-July 19, Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 162 Russell St., Rockport ME. 207-236-2875; www.artsmaine.org
Caldbeck Gallery show, June 18-July 12, 12 Elm St., Rockland ME. 207-594-5935; www.caldbeck.com