There is a spot on Atlantic Avenue, well known to Brooklyn art lovers, where a great deal of excellent art is exhibited at two fine galleries: Bruno Marina and Metaphor. I would have been as well served to visit Stephen Westfall’s exhibition of drawings at the former, but I strayed first toward the latter and became entangled in the work of a young Massachusetts native named Sandy Litchfield.
Litchfield blends easel painting with mural work to create a hybrid style of installation not uncommon today. Easel painting came into being largely in opposition to the sedentary mural and offered artists an opportunity to create self-contained works of art unfettered by architecture. Unlike the mural, these new paintings demanded consideration as autonomous objects.
The discrepancy between easel painting and the mural creates a tension that can undo today’s unsuspecting installation artist. Without very careful attention to detail, easel paintings can easily refuse to work symbiotically to support the structure of an installation involving other elements. Litchfield does not entirely escape this fate; the bits of mural with which she surrounds her paintings and the odd angles at which she’s hung them seem a bit forced. Fortunately, the sheer strength of her painting and drawing is such that the interference of the installation seems minor. One finds oneself drawn into contemplation of the source of Litchfield’s inspiration: her native Massachusetts landscape and the transcendental thought it inspires.
A work of art must seem necessary—like it could not have been otherwise—and full of conviction. All the erudition and savvy in the world cannot make up for a lack of passion for one’s subject matter, nor can technical expertise. It is feeling that holds a work of art together. This excites. Litchfield obviously bears such feeling for the landscapes she paints. She has trained herself to locate the landscape’s details in her memory. In “Park Season,” she takes a bird’s eye view of a lake with a large island at its center and, with hesitant dotted lines and enclosed impasto areas, she splices in what I take for a remembered rendition of its details. A thickly painted lakeshore on the central island might be a spot where the artist once swam, and looping lines on the nearby coast could trace the paths of boating trips past. These landscapes are clearly well known and loved.
Upstairs in Metaphor’s project room Litchfield is well accompanied by Katy Krantz, whose paintings on paper, perhaps less ambitious than her colleague’s, are equally charming. Her abstractions are unceremoniously hung from pins and clips, yet this does not detract from their allure. The paintings themselves have an off-hand quality. My favorite, the most off-hand of all, is placed in the stairwell and makes me think of a large, feathered hat with a photographer’s color grid stuck to the top—an interpretation inspired by the playful quality these paintings all possess.