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Beginning in 2009, Baltimore painter Paul Jeanes drastically altered his approach to making art. Trained and encouraged as a representational painter, the works in “The Clearing” lay out a progression of artistic experimentation with new forms and processing a divorce from the visual language of symbols, to that of textural abstraction.

There are two distinct bodies of work included in this exhibition, markedly different in scale and visual temperament, but unified through process and medium. All the paintings are developed through layers of oil paint application, removal, layering and glazing. These applications and removals are carefully skimmed, sanded, cut, masked and brushed to build abstract compositions. The resulting paintings are uniformly energetic and visceral, evoking natural forms without the specificity of literal association.

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The smaller (24 inches or less) compositions feature scraped explosions of color and gestural curves of line which use a similar language as the fluid squeegee mark of David Reed and the fussed knots of Jonathan Lasker. Large examples of this shape dominate the frame, but are also compressed and repeated in the picture as well as among the paintings. This repetition leads the viewer to read the swirls as characters. The visual hierarchy of these paintings are established by the scale of these marks as much as uniformly intense colors. They evoke the songs of Jazz-Punk band The Minutemen: skronky, vibrant, and rhythmic; direct and thoughtful. Among these works there is a clear transition where the colors become more restrained and the gestures calmer and more singular. The space remains shallow, a little airier, but fogged. The tone changes, and that implies a connection to the second body of work represented in the show.

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The larger (36 inches or more) works in the exhibition are distinguished by a clarity of atmosphere and space. Blanketed in titanium white, these paintings dominate the gallery rendering the smaller works nearly anecdotal. If those are short and punky, these are epic ambient soundscapes crackling into fragments. Where previously, the scraping of paint across the surface of the canvas created abrasive and brushy textures, here the results are delicate knife-flattened blips and poofs. Through these chipped and snowy surfaces, linear incisions reveal chromatically pure peeks of color. These stripes are the dominant graphic elements of the compositions and variously imply cliff sides, vacant plow lines, bony forests or derelict barns – but never with symbolic clarity.

The contrast of styles within this exhibition offer viewers an experience which is dynamic in its contrasts. While the smaller paintings are occasionally acidic and uncomfortable, the larger offer quiet moments, politely demanding contemplation. Either way, it’s remarkable that the voice remains distinctly Jeanes’, whichever type of song he may be inclined to write.

Ian MacLean Davis is a Baltimore-based artist and instructor.

Paul Jeanes: “The Clearing” runs until March 24th. Gallery Hours: 9am to 5pm, Monday-Sunday.
Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, Towson
For more information, visit http://www.goucher.edu/rosenberg

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