New York

James DeWoody

Mary Ryan Gallery

James DeWoody first showed a talent for bringing out the dynamic aspects of form and color in the abstract paintings and sculptures he did between 1972 and 1982. Over the last five years, the lively zigzag patterns and faceted shapes he has favored have started to take on decidedly associative connotations, bringing to mind certain architectural references, such as the tower. DeWoody's vision has tended to develop in a decidedly representational direction, though the key to discerning the symbolic content of his work lies in apprehending its special concrete qualities, insinuated as they are in the abstract elements of line, plane, and color.

Most of the works on display were devoted to explorations of urban themes, while a few came from DeWoody's ongoing series investigating the sport of baseball. DeWoody uses a technique called pochoir, a process of printing involving the use of stencils, in order to get the precise edges that are a hallmark of his style. His approach to pochoir is open enough to allow for a combination of graphic and painterly values. The lively, textured surfaces of these prints have a vitality that is exhilarating to behold. A number of them, in particular those from the “Ten Images of the City” series, 1987, are impressive as pictorial icons. 90th Street at East End Avenue is one of the most enigmatic. Working both from life and imagination, DeWoody transforms an Art Deco-style asphalt plant into a generalized monumental structure. The smooth surfaces and swelling volumes of its multipartite facade are rendered in tonal variations of gray and set at an angle against a brilliant yellow-streaked sky. The image exudes strength, through its use of shaped or directed mass, a concept also at the heart of the appeal of Art Deco architecture. Two of the more famous of the new megalithic skyscrapers crowding Manhattan streets, the neighboring AT&T and IBM buildings, are interpreted in fanciful fashion in 55th Street at Madison Avenue. Rendered in black and white and silvery grays, this view reduces form to essential curves and lintels, resulting in a kind of clearly articulated space that is, nonetheless, permeated with mystery. In 53rd Street at 3rd Avenue and 10th Avenue at 30th Street, he uses foreshortening to recreate the feeling of surprise, mingled at times with a touch of horror or admiration, that can arise when suddenly big things come imposingly into view. Echoing the Precisionists, DeWoody displays a keen sensitivity toward the array of rhythms and forces shaping the urban landscape.

Ronny Cohen