The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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SEPT 2023 Issue

Julie DeVries: Survival Moments

Julie DeVries, <em>Nocturne - Colored Leaves</em>, 2020. Oil on linen 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy Hunter Dunbar Projects.
Julie DeVries, Nocturne - Colored Leaves, 2020. Oil on linen 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy Hunter Dunbar Projects.

On View
Hunter Dunbar
Survival Moments
July 13–September 16, 2023
New York

Julie DeVries is showing seven oil landscapes and about as many studies in her first New York show, currently on view at Hunter Dunbar. Working both from memory and photographs, her paintings depict lyrical scenes suffused with brilliant color and radiant light. The density of foliage compressed within the shallow area of the paintings suggests deep forest interiors, so it comes as a surprise to learn that DeVries’s sources emerge primarily from green spaces and clusters of vegetation in the urban environment around her native Houston.

The stylization of DeVries’s landscapes calls to mind Lois Dodd and especially Alex Katz. But where Katz, in his cityscapes and landscapes, utilizes contrasting high-keyed colors and broad and simplified design, DeVries’s paintings are more intimately scaled and hew closer to naturalism. Late Summer Field and Nocturne - Colored Leaves (both 2020) are among the more descriptive work in the show, the former presenting a low-lying view of tall grasses, the latter an autumnal array of fluttering leaves against a darkening sky.

Julie DeVries, <em>Pineywoods</em>, 2022. Oil on canvas Triptych, overall: 90 x 106 inches. Courtesy Hunter Dunbar Projects.
Julie DeVries, Pineywoods, 2022. Oil on canvas Triptych, overall: 90 x 106 inches. Courtesy Hunter Dunbar Projects.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cast Shadow on a Ligustrum (2022), with its sharp corner-to-corner diagonal division, shows DeVries’s interest in geometry and design. Consistent across this intersection is a pattern of gently arcing brushstrokes, which spring forth like a fountain. In Spring Leaves (2021), she displaces hard-edge drawing from the interior of the picture to the shape of its support, a hexagon. The largest painting in the show, the triptych Pineywoods ,(2022) stands just under nine feet tall, its height amplified by the trees which populate its three narrow panels. Together with a patchwork of foliage, they are woven through the fore- and background of the painting. The colors of sunset and dusk—pale pink and peach, grayed purples and plum—wrap around the tree trunks like musculature.

In a similar way, biological forms resonate through the vein-like tangle of softly contoured branches in Emerging Branches (2023), one of the exhibition’s standout paintings. Sunlight’s glow flickers throughout the picture, in rhythmic marks of glistening oil that curl forward from the painting’s depths. DeVries’s verdant palette is expansive and symphonic, spanning from flashes of bright chartreuse to daubs of cold teal, capturing light in its particularity and its ambience. The fluttering brushstrokes and patterned construction of light and shade bring to mind both Lynne Drexler’s floral abstractions, and the delicate late paintings of Bradley Walker Tomlin, though DeVries’s painting is overall more ethereal. Another standout work, painted in a tonality similar to Emerging Branches (though with more stark and dramatic contrasts) is the kaleidoscopic Leaf Reflections (2023). In both pictures the landscape is encompassing and immersive; DeVries places the viewer in the midst of a thicket with neither the ground nor the sky in view.

Installation view:<em> Julie DeVries: Survival Moments</em>, Hunter Dunbar Projects, New York, 2023. Courtesy Hunter Dunbar Projects.
Installation view: Julie DeVries: Survival Moments, Hunter Dunbar Projects, New York, 2023. Courtesy Hunter Dunbar Projects.

The six small oil studies differ in their degrees of finish and verisimilitude. The tangle of branches, free floating foliage of Study - Bush Teal (2023) recalls Nocturne - Colored Leaves, and is nearly as complete a picture. By contrast, Study - Sunset Buffalo Bayou (2018) has the appearance of being painted swiftly, in broad fluid strokes, with an economy of description that verges on abstraction. The dramatically toned Bayou Reflections (2020) continues in this vein, with an ambiguous form mirrored on the surface of water and only a few abrupt zig-zagging marks to indicate the bayou’s rippling wavelets. At either scale, DeVries’s landscapes are lush and rich, teeming with detail, balancing the depiction of nature’s abundance and overgrowth with simplified design and a dynamic painterly style.


Alex Grimley

Alex Grimley is an art historian based in Philadelphia.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues