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Out of the Shadows

Kurt Meer: alchemist of form and light.



With "Origin," Kurt Meer fills the L Ross Gallery with sparsely composed, eerily calm, and hauntingly beautiful landscapes. Like many American landscape painters of the second half of the 19th century, especially the Luminists, Meer accentuates light. Glints of bright color shine through shadowy worlds and spread across skies that dominate his picture planes. Imperceptible brush strokes infuse dawn (Begin III) and dusk (Gloaming II) with the palest possible melons, teals, and violets. These softly glowing colors enrich the dark bends of rivers, highlight the tops of tree lines, and reflect in still waters.

What makes "Origin" a particularly compelling body of work is Meer's pairing of these landscapes with a series of small figurative works. Each of these portraits consists of a lone figure: a woman whose body blurs into the background. Sometimes, as in Lapse, this sphinx-like figure closes her eyes, faces straight ahead, and, along with the stone facades surrounding her, appears to crumble into eons of time.

Another figure stirs things up in Voyage III. She turns away from ancient vistas, away from the viewer. She cocks her head to the side and appears lost in thought and feeling. The exhibition's loosest brushwork and most luminous colors explode around and inside her. Meer's portraits of mind in matter suggest that awareness is pervasive and that consciousness, fully engaged in the present moment, wields a power that can move mountains and open up the sky.

Meer's carefully observed landscapes also transform matter. In Late II, grass on a riverbank softens as mist rises through its blades. The mist shimmers as light passes through its vapors. The mist bends the light, and the light colors the mist a green-gray. The mist rises further and brightens as it passes through pale violet atmosphere. All of Meer's paintings capture hundreds of these variations in texture, color, and brightness.

This artist's accomplished techniques combine with his elegant understanding of light and form to convincingly depict the gray-violets of twilight (Late II), muted yellow light filtering though fog along a riverbank (Awake V), and the complex colors of a sunrise where yellows, peaches, and greens radiate out and overlap (Awake IV). The half-light of dawn mutes the greens of trees and scumbles their edges (Begin III). Dusk turns the trees of Voyage into phantom shadows and the riverbanks of Awake IV into pale gray abstractions. In all of Meer's works, land morphs into water into mist into atmosphere suggesting the permeable, interdependent qualities of the natural world.

No sharp shadows create the illusion of dimensionality. No clear lines of perspective thrust our point of view to a distant horizon. The effect on viewer perceptions is subtler and more complete. In Edge, one of Meer's smallest, most seamless landscapes, a golden-orange ray of light spreads across the sky, becomes fainter and fainter, and, at the apex of the painting, becomes a barely perceptible glow. Edge takes us to the edge of transcendence; and, perhaps more importantly, this profoundly relaxing work -- as well as all of Meer's paintings -- still the mind, calm the body, and gently immerse us in the subtleties of the given world.

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