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Longing Light, Questioning Color

Michael Drury, Into the West, 2003, at Sullivan Goss, downtown, through October 28, 2003

The ever provocative and eye-sating painter Michael Drury opts for a sequel-like title for his fine, full new exhibition: Into the West, 2003, which comes late on the heels of Into the West, 2001. It makes perfect sense. The very Santa Barbaran artist, raised here and often finding subjects in these parts, is still looking into the West and finding plenty to paint about.

A seemingly bold simplicity is at work in Drury’s paintings, which keeps us guessing about the artist’s possible ulterior motives. He captures a natural scene, unspoiled by human presence or intervention, but the angles and implicit attitudes in his working process suggest a new, unfolding perspective on landscape art. He avoids excessive detail, instead focusing on matters of the drama and variation of sunlight – especially long, early morning light – and clever ways of organizing pictorial space.

In Drury’s paintings, the odd mix of visual order and the questions about light and color are self-evident in his paintings of structures, including one of the signature paintings from his barn series, “Great Basin Barn.” Despite the structure’s decrepit rusticity, the barn conveys unwavering geometric solidity, locking the composition into place. “Pierce Point Ranch House” has its volumes articulated in stark, bright sunlight, becoming a Thiebaud-like study in form spun off of an almost sentimental and picturesque source.

In “Barber Ranch Poplars,” a golden explosion of wind-bent, unkempt trees against a shadowy mountain backdrop is too vivid for words. That’s what paintings are for. Other paintings take aim at mythic-looking stones and hillsides, often brushed with extra long light to accentuate crags and earthen forms. Very different forms, but painted with a similar form-conscious awe, appear in “Cumulus Clouds over the Gavilans, Salinas Valley” with a thin strip of land below grounding a vision all about the abstract white puffery of cumulus.

Cleanliness and mystery are co-conspirators in Drury’s art. We get the sense that hiding somewhere between these two elements lives truth.

Josef Woodard
Santa Barbara Independent
October 2, 2003

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