Boston

Scott Prior

Alpha Gallery

Ranging in size from the 5-by-4-inch miniature, LAUNDRY AT TWILIGHT, 1992, to the 72-by-96-inch MARLOES AND EZRA, 1990, Scott Prior’s meticulously executed oil paintings are moody and evocative.

Though traditional in form, Prior’s images are imbued with a mystical quality—reflective of his seemingly edenic life in rural Northampton, Massachusetts—that sets them apart from more academic painting. Through his deliberate arrangement of form, color, and lighting, and his assimilation of the techniques of Northern Renaissance painting, Prior establishes himself as a contemporary genre painter.

Echoes of winter landscapes by Brueghel and Caspar David Friedrich resound in the delicate BARBECUE IN WINTER, 1991. The passage of time, a consistent theme in Prior’s work, is suggested here by a singular brick barbecue partially covered with snow. Beneath an eerily translucent sky, this mundane symbol of the bounties of summer is transformed into a winter tomb, nestling quietly on a snowy hillside before a barren wood. Only a few carefully placed footprints indicate a human presence.

TWO TOWELS, 1991, is another successful balance of the commonplace and the mystical. In this sylvan backyard-setting, afternoon light penetrates two bath towels draped over a rustic clothesline. Shadows bounce from verdant maples and evergreens while the sunlight enhances the textures of the towels, lending them a dramatic presence. Here, as in the majority of Prior’s arranged landscapes, objects appear to take on somewhat anthropomorphic qualities, becoming substitutions for figures.

Prior’s figures, like those in NANNY ASLEEP and MOTEL ROOM, both 1992, are rendered with a consistently invisible stroke and the compositions are dramatically understated. NANNY ASLEEP is a sultry portrait of the artist’s wife curled in her bed, flanked by a large, menacing, red geranium. The linearity of Nanny’s pale bare legs and long feet, outlined in dark tones, recalls the formal technique of Rogier Vander Weyden. More confrontational, MARLOES AND EZRA depicts a nude girl between a floating beach ball and a small nude boy. The trees and grassy landscape are rendered impressionistically, while the figures—the artist’s son and his college-age babysitter—are painted with smooth, seamless strokes, staring provocatively out at the viewer as they pose in a sun-soaked summer landscape. The coquettish red-haired beauty makes ripples as she wades beside a prominent purple rubber ball, reflected in a shallow pond. From the shore, the mischievous blond youngster looks out at the viewer. This idyllic image is infused with sexual innuendo and refers, rather perplexingly, to the long representational history of Christ’s baptism.

Prior is doubtless a master of the mechanics of painting, as is so evident in the quality and sheer number of objects in this exhibition. What remains somewhat uneven is their focus and narrative impact.

Francine Koslow Miller