Harold Gregor

Nancy Lurie Gallery

This exhibition includes four kinds of painting by Harold Gregor, all Photo-Realist, and based on Midwestern land and light. They include landscapes in which a frontal or three-quarter view shows sky and a densely grown field; “flatscapes” in which an aerial view of farm, field, road, creek, and an occasional car is tipped as if to slide downward on the canvas; scenes in which an oblique view of trucks and people depict farming activities; and barns or corn cribs, in which most of the canvas is taken up by the image of the simple structure.

The first three types are done well, but add little to the course of Photo-Realism. The scenes are routine, with the Kodachrome, glass-window surface that talks of relationships with photography, highlights, shadows, and tones. The landscapes are a bit more interesting; their Uccello-like demonstrations of artificial perspective seem ironically stated with the image of natural land. Little social commentary is evident, but there is an inclination to stress complexity by picturing a relationship between commercial man and a food supply which may not always be regarded as abundant. The “flatscapes” step back, miming the views on commercial, cornmeal bag labels, while proposing certain schematic restrictions, like a six-color palette, dotted lines to mean “field,” black outlines to mean “house,” and a platitudinous translation of flat land to flat canvas.

Gregor has more to say in the cribs and barns. Here, he modifies Photo Realism’s glossy heritage, and rightly so, for there is inherently no reason to advertise a fundamentally gloss-less subject. This is the rigid, sturdy, functional, no-waste Middle West, where paint on a barn means not “sensuous surface,” but rather, “Does it need a new coat this year?” Technically speaking, there is no high-gloss enamel on Gregor’s crib and barn paintings; the surfaces are more personally gestural, and attention is focused on one large image, rather than a detailed overkill of glitters and sheens. There’s still a concern with “painting”: rectangular barn parallels rectangular picture plane; windows and toolshed doors let viewers visually penetrate to an illusory beyond.

But mostly, the initial photograph’s objectivity is here a tool, and its capacity to inspire statements about light and flatness is subordinate to something else. Instead, the use of an initial photo seems a device to retain credence when the artist, inundated by the beauty, smell, and sunlight in a cornfield, might get too ridiculously romantic. As it is, Gregor’s distance balances the image effect. There is right-angle architecture, liquid shadow below the roof at evening, tower on barn roof, light slats in the dark interiors, fuse box and three power lines, and a few varieties of grass; but then too, there is closed, protective, secure, warm structure, its tower a sentinel, its essence a secret chest more important than a jewel box. No goggle-eyed American Gothic skepticism, with green pepper stands or ads on what nature can do for you; such false security is blandly upstaged by the straightforward image of a thing without which all that high-toned slickness would be unknown.

C.L. Morrison