London

Lois Dodd, Front Door Cushing, 1982, oil on linen, 60 × 36".

Lois Dodd, Front Door Cushing, 1982, oil on linen, 60 × 36".

Lois Dodd

Modern Art Helmet Row

She finds great company in aloneness. A strip of light beneath a closed door; colors flapping from a clothesline; gray raindrops squiggling down a city window; a snowy, headlit hill; a lunar eclipse. For more than seventy years, Lois Dodd has lent a generous presence to mostly unpeopled views in or near her homes in New York, New Jersey, and midcoastal Maine. Associated with a set of postwar painters including Gretna Campbell, Alex Katz, and Neil Welliver—artists who, amid AbEx and Pop hegemony, courted gentle contrarianism by reengaging landscape painting via airily abstract modes of perception—she continues, at ninety-two, to work without proper institutional recognition despite her obvious genius. This show was her first survey abroad, its twenty canvases spanning half a century in two rooms. The mood was one of exceptional patience, and yet the images’ doors, windows, and mirrors—Dodd is a devoted portalist—offered getaways on every wall.

“Observational painting” feels too small to cover this emphatic intimism. The thinly applied pale expanse of the life-size Blue Sky Window, 1979, for instance, seems less observed than understood, internalized. “This space so clear and blue / does not care what we put/ / into it,” wrote Frank O’Hara, a fellow Tenth Street habitué, in the opening lines to his poem “Windows.” Dodd cares. While it’s tempting to think of her as a kind of backyard Bonnard, she paints from life rather than memory. Sentimentality or haziness seldom encumber her compositions, which she usually completes quickly in one go, wet on wet, and which prize a flat clarity without sacrificing pictorial or atmospheric depth. No wonder she likes reflections. The broken panes of Two Windows, Clapboard Siding, 1987—a frontal vantage of an untended house—are not transparent, but deceptively mirror surrounding foliage in the form of muddled green daubs interrupted by the voids where the glass has shattered, permitting a glimpse into the structure’s umber interior. As in other works on display, the window could be considered its own found composition within the view, a grid to order and tease perspective.

“It’s such a kick, really, seeing things,” one cannot help but quote Dodd as saying. In Front Door Cushing, 1982, a masterly essay on light and shade, quotidian, canvas-aligned verticals again play the foil to an abstracted representation of nature. A straightedge leans against a paneled wall hued like the outer reaches of a sunset, the door ajar to reveal a wilderness recorded, again, with wilder brushwork. Unlike the work of realists such as Edward Hopper, to whom Dodd is sometimes compared, or Andrew Wyeth, whose Christina’s World, 1948, is also set in Cushing, Maine, Dodd’s paintings of American seclusion brim with a direct contentedness that belies their formal and chromatic intricacy. Rigorously organized yet somehow spontaneous, her pictures extol the leisure of goalless contemplation as well as the eye’s immediacy.

As though to remind gallery visitors that no lovely moment lasts forever, an outlier oil titled Burning House, Night, with Fireman, 2007, portrays a home going up in gorgeous flames, clearly beyond salvation. Yet even this turned into a timeless, almost serene vision, the pink fumes something unexpected, the ashen silhouette of the saltbox a monument to transience that upset the stillness of the neighboring works, whose subjects were, after all, moving through unstillable time. This is what Dodd, like every great painter, does: She tweaks our way of seeing incrementally, so as to slowly revise our very world and how we move through it. Such a kick, indeed.