Randall Deihl

Clark Gallery

ALONG WITH SCOTT PRIOR and the late Gregory Gillespie, painter Randall Deihl has earned the moniker “Valley Realist” with his painstakingly detailed oil portraits and nostalgic, campy vignettes. Most of the twenty-nine still-lifes, portraits, and landscapes recently on view capture the scenes and characters of Deihl's beloved Pioneer Valley in rural western Massachusetts. Quirky yet familiar images of old bottle collectors, wizened farmers, and elderly couples in laundromats fill panels and canvases ranging in scale from eleven by ten inches to four by seven feet. Deihl is also fascinated by roadside kitsch: shingled trailers, pink plastic flamingos, garden Madonnas, “Frosty Joy” ice-cream stands, and giant fiberglass Indians along the Mohawk Trail.

Deihl embellishes everyday reality with exaggerated scale, intensified lighting, and heightened colors worthy of Disney studios. He often includes figures and animals in juxtapositions that lend a romantic edge to lonely roadside scenes. The panoramic White Station, 1997, reveals a bleak geography: an abandoned gas station before fluorescent-green trees under a moonless sapphire night sky. The contours of the simple white-and-red Art Deco building are echoed by the boarded-up windows and two vintage gas pumps. Deihl adds a couple of narrative touches to this image of an American architectural vernacular: tire tracks and a lone black-and-white dog who stands in the shadows forlornly gazing into the distance.

Deihl's mastery of portraiture. Closely observed sharp-focus images of the elderly, friends, and Deihl himself evoke the work of Otto Dix in their excruciating attention to detail and flaw. In Yellow Self-Portrait, 2000, the artist gives a biting depiction of his own pensive face, with piercing blue eyes and tan, wrinkled skin. The almost Flemish illusionism and chiaroscuro of his head contrast with the flatly rendered lines of his red-and-blue V-necked shirt and the mustard yellow background. Farmer, 2000, a tiny panel painting, depicts a shriveled and toothless farmer holding the top of a shovel. The contours of his craggy face and neck mimic the folds of his gray shirt and baseball cap. This native of the small Massachusetts town of Goshen is one of the relics that Deihl seeks to capture and preserve

In Portrait of Greg, 1999-2000, Deihl's late best friend sits in his Belchertown studio amid a still-life setup of fruit, canvases, brushes, and frames. The patterns of spilled paint on the floor around Gillespie echo those on the artist's pigment-stained clothing. In his canvas, Deihl has faithfully reproduced Gillespie's unfinished painting of a smiling woman leaning out of a frame and some handwritten notations on the wall (the names and phone numbers of Deihl, Prior, and artist Jane Lund). Gillespie's furrowed, scowling face seems to display the self-reflective angst that often accompanied the realization of his art, perhaps hinting also at what seems in retrospect to be a darker contemplation: This studio is where Gillespie was to hang himself this past April, shortly after Deihl's painting was completed.

Deihl adds candor and irony to an ephemeral world populated by spirited loners. In a manner hauntingly evocative of Grant Wood and Edward Hopper, Deihl's carefully rendered vistas memorialize an aging and vanishing America.

Francine Koslow Miller