Naomi Chung at Gross McCleaf Gallery

The pure pleasure of blending East and West

'Red Orchids': Down on your hands and knees.
'Red Orchids': Down on your hands and knees.

    Compared to other schools of modern art, Impressionism certainly comes off as the intellectual lightweight. It’s all about spontaneity and the truthful capture of fleeting atmospheric effects. So, is that such a bad thing? Must art endlessly pose visual riddles to be taken seriously? Must art signify to be Art?

    This show of work by Naomi Chung brings front and center this question. What we have here is an art of pure visual pleasure. It makes me feel happy and peaceful as I view it. Not all Impressionist art strikes me that way. Sometimes it’s just great big postcard views rendered in oils.

    My previous encounter with Naomi Chung’s work convinced me that this was an artist of considerable ability, well able to breathe new life into the tired formulae of Impressionist landscape art. On one hand, she possesses a calligraphic stroke that transforms a small meditative piece like Garden Glimpses into a wonderland of strokes, cross-strokes, dashes and dots of urgent color—all of which combine before your eyes into as perfect a rendering of a patch of garden as you would see were you really looking at it on hands and knees.

    In larger pieces like Tall Pine, Chung’s strokes preserve their integrity, and the work is like a cross between an oil painting and a woodblock print. Even when she executes a piece as large as 90” x 48” (Weeping Willow), the brushstrokes still hold. Everything is at once loose yet tightly bound together. You are looking at a major painting with the light touch of an ink sketch.

    On the other hand, Chung is also a master at reproducing atmospheric effects. Her large painting, Himalayan Waterfall, almost throws the spray in your face. Pine Tree Over Water admirably suggests both distance and fragrance of boughs so close at hand that you feel you can grasp them. Even in her “lesser” works, Chung proves herself a gifted upholder of the venerable Impressionist tradition.

    Sharing space with Chung’s landscapes are sculptures by Shane Stratton. These also depict nature and natural settings, albeit in a non-representation manner. The workmanship is admirable, though I confess that the content left me somewhat cold.