Valley News – Art Notes: The complexity of simplicity in the Lois Dodd retrospective

A phrase I’ve often heard in reference to Lois Dodd’s work is “deceptively simple.” In fact, there it is, right at the start of the wall text for “Natural Order,” a retrospective of Dodd’s work at the Hall Art Foundation in Reading, Vt. Deceptively simple.

What is it about Dodd’s work that suggests simplicity, and what qualities does his work possess, on closer inspection, that reveal deception? Part of that, I think, has to do with how the work is reproduced. It’s so beautiful in the photos. Dodd’s work is very photogenic and looks crisp and fresh in print, on social media, and yes, in person.

Dodd was born in 1927 in Montclair, NJ, and studied art at Cooper Union in New York in the late 1940s. artist of the downtown art scene and became a founding member of the Tangager Gallery cooperative. Since then, she has maintained residencies in New Jersey, Maine, and New York City, and has used these locations as settings for her unique brand of acutely observed perceptual paintings.

yellow cow (1958) is the first work on display, and it demonstrates Dodd’s early efforts to paint rural naturalism even as she was at the center of the maelstrom that was mid-century abstraction. The bulbous chrome-yellow cow and the flattened planes of the pasture behind her are fused into an interlocking group of geometric shapes that push the boundaries of abstraction and figuration.

In the early 1970s, Dodd began a series of studio interiors in his loft on New York’s Lower East Side. night sky loft (1973) is an excellent example. An old cast iron radiator creates a ridged pattern that leads the eye to a large oval mirror in which an ornate chair is reflected. Flashes of light from the adjacent building are visible through the studio’s inky window. Here, as in much of Dodd’s work, the seeming banality of everyday life becomes a rich visual experience, charged with sensation as it is filtered through his field of vision.

About half of the 50 paintings in the exhibition are on loan from other collections and the other half come from the room’s collection. The exhibit is vast without being overwhelming. The scale of the galleries is intimate and fits well with the relatively modest sizes of Dodd’s canvases. A viewer can experience them up close in pieces suitable for everyday life.

Dodd’s work is rooted in tradition while moving beyond tradition into the realm of the contemporary. She seems to frame her images as seen, rather than thinking about composing an image for the paintings. She frames and paints the scene according to her exact position in relation to her own field of vision.

natural order (1978), the painting from which the title of the exhibition derives, is a scene in the woods near Dodd’s home in Maine shortly after a storm toppled ancient pines. The painting is divided into intersecting planes of shadow and light, giving the scene a faceted appearance. Cézanne comes to mind, and Dodd certainly borrows Cubist compositional strategies. Dodd captures the pure feeling of standing in the middle of the woods, and you can almost hear the soft crunch of pine needles underfoot.

By painting the scene as it is, without reaching for common painterly tropes, Dodd immerses the viewer in the scene in a way that eludes most figurative painters. His paintings are experimental as much as they are visual.

Another critical aspect of Dodd’s work is the relationship between speed and accuracy. Much of Dodd’s work is created in single sessions and with minimal editing. As a seasoned painter with a highly trained eye and an equally skilled hand, she is able to calculate the colors and locations of her shapes with a high degree of precision.

You get a good idea of ​​it in works such as tree shadow on snow (1995) where the snow bank, the blue shadows and the dark stream running through the scene are all outlined in a few economic strokes. Dodd does not need to go back and correct, edit or otherwise tend to the canvas: she goes in and out to keep the image clear and sharp while maintaining its painterly vitality.

While Dodd’s work consists primarily of landscapes and interior scenes, the human figure makes an occasional appearance, though rarely in a direct or expected way. On occasion, she draws inspiration from the model as part of a drawing group that meets near her home in Maine. From these sessions, the artist created works featuring the female nude posed in the landscape. Step Ruin with figure (1997-2001) depicts a standing female figure seen from behind and posed among the architectural remains of a dilapidated house. A grand staircase twists upwards as the verdant landscape is seen through the exposed door jamb. Dodd elevated his subject and gave it the presence of Greek classicism with the ruin and the figure echoing the feeling of a statue in a temple.

Shadow with easel (2010) is a delightful interpretation of a self-portrait. The work is part of a series of images from the shadows of the artist as she paints on her easel. Its gesture and outline create an unmistakable presence of the artist at work. Dodd is the kind of painter that artists deeply admire, because his work invites a certain technical examination, and the longer one looks, the more he reveals. His work seems to invite you to come closer and in doing so leaves you with an even deeper admiration for his achievement.

Lois Dodd: Natural Order is on view at the Hall Art Foundation until November 27. For more information, visit

Eric Sutphin is a freelance writer. He lives in Plainfield.

Sharon D. Cole