Richard Stout

W. A Graham Gallery

Richard Stout’s new landscape paintings look unabashedly nostalgic. Their misty radiance and near resemblance to classical examples of the genre seem to rebut any cognizance of the threatened state of nature today. Yet each vista resembles a familiar place whose precise source eludes us, whether through partial veilings of mass or contour, elisions of detail, blurrings of tactility, or some arresting contradictions of logical placement. These serene and luminous scenes of deep waters, cloud-scudded skies, and fenced fields resist identification. Stout is disarming us with reveries and at the same time provoking us to ponder the source of their inspiration.

Ancestors in Charcoal (all works, 1989) provides some clues. It’s not a landscape, but a house corridor, reminiscent of Victorian “hall” paintings in which portieres, brass pots, and tall clocks hobnob with banisters and newel posts. Stout’s version is tidy and staunchly vertical, as befits the genre. At the center are two white pedimented doors, primly Doric in origin. A peachy glowing foreground breaks to a yellow room beyond, which is terminated in turn by another door at the rear. Bookshelves, a small chair, and the stalk of a floor lamp delineate the setting, but the sketchy handling and slight discrepancies in scale suggest that this is a reconstruction from memory, a summoning forth of things whose warm ambience confirms their special significance. The spartan details of this provincial setting contend with the chromatic sweetness, as if a yearning for tenderness were forestalled by firm dicta for discipline.

Stout’s landscapes combine sentiment, symbolism, and pictorial structure. In Morning, violet trees echoing Monet’s rhythmically aligned poplars march across the horizon of a watery bay; their ghostly reflections recall the work of turn-of-the-century American Symbolist painters. But the water at the center is a flat flush of color with little illusionistic mystery. It halts our eye like an impaled tabula rasa. If Stout’s dawn simulates innocence and fresh beginnings, this surface is born of a calculated refusal to let romantic impulses predominate. In another work, Evening, the mood is again meditative and the theme allegorical, but there’s even less granted our expectations of revelation. The four sides of the canvas are painted a bit like a brightly tinted window embrasure; the area within it is a twilight gray—vaguely ominous, turgid, and darkly indefinable. This mood isn’t elegiac so much as warily attuned to the unarticulated and unpredictable. What’s clear in the image is only what’s near and well-lighted. What’s unclear is just as palpable, yet without voice. If Morning announces the cycle of the passage of time, its innocent origins are muted and internalized in Evening.

In Summer, the most enigmatic work in the exhibition, Stout seems to be staging a montage of two landscapes. The piece is bafflingly clear in articulation. Clumps of green trees arise from lighter green plains, which in turn are pierced at their perimeters by deep watery-blue wedges. This is both a landscape and a seascape. Arcing across the trees is a band of rocky riprap, a breakwater, which is met by a lunging stone wall cutting diagonally across to meet it. This nexus represents the midpoint of a private narrative in which a romantic inclination—a desire to let mood determine the choice of imagery, as well as the expressive manner of application—is countered by a monitoring intelligence which blunts without thwarting the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the subjects.

Joan Seeman Robinson