Barbara Grad

Bernard Toale Gallery

In her large paintings and small watercolor and ink studies, Barbara Grad renders the view from her studio window in stunning abstract forms. The bushes, trees, flowers, sloping hills, and fields become biomorphic shapes—resembling seeds, leaves, and branches—all of which seem about to blossom or bear fruit. The eight oil-on-linen paintings included in this, Grad’s first Boston solo show, represent the culmination of years of travel during which she painted both realistic and abstract landscapes. The mountains, hills, and exotic flora of Hawaii, New Mexico, and Portugal have evolved into organic abstractions of a sprawling New England landscape.

Grad’s carefully worked paintings comprise several layers of soft washes topped with tightly formed white and black lines that bring the organic forms she favors into focus. The exuberant colors—predominantly oranges, grays, browns, blacks, and soft blues—are drawn from nature, though heightened for dramatic and decorative impact. The primitive stylizations and pictographic lines call to mind the work of Adolf Gottlieb in the late ’40s, while the ovoid forms evoke Arthur Dove’s own abstractions.

Grad’s lyrical paintings reflect not only seasonal changes but her own reactions to those changes. In Beginnings (all works 1996), the artist translates her longing for spring by painting pod forms and treetops on a hot orange ground, while the upper portion of the canvas is dominated by a cool gray, black, and white geometric configuration that suggests the barren landscape of winter. Black ovoid seeds are sprinkled among the stylized branches of a dead tree, below which a snakelike black curlicue commingles with a podlike series of gray and black concentric circles. A subtle gray totemic form separates the black “male” stem from a blastula-like treetop in full bloom.

Grad’s ability to make work at once spontaneous and controlled is most evident in Whispers. A ground of gray, tan, brown, and green fluid washes is punctuated by black and white floral and ovoid glyphs in a joyous celebration of her garden in full summer bloom. A central Miró-esque black flower balances on a stem embraced and supported by a white caduceus, while other “stems” are topped with nonspecific flowers and milkweed. All growth seems to emerge from a giant black, green, and blue mother pod.

Grad’s sumi ink and watercolor studies for her newest series of nature dreamscapes are simpler, highly poetic images. Each of the six four-by-six-inch artist’s books, all entitled “Origins,” open like accordions, echoing the many layers out of which she builds her large canvases.

Francine Koslow-Miller