Art New England
Pepper Gallery/ Boston
by Paul Parcellin
Nancy Friese's landscape paintings depict two radically different environments that somehow seem to have a lot in common. Half of this exhibition consists of paintings she made while in Japan, and the other half of paintings made in the Badlands of her native South Dakota. The common thread running through Near and Far is the painterly technique used to depict both lush greenery and barren plains.
Friese, the head of the printmaking department at Rhode Island School of Design, surprisingly exhibits only one monoprint here. The rest are oil paintings that recall diverse influences, but mostly of the Impressionists.
Visiting Japan on a National Endowment for the Arts grant, she painted a series of works focusing on Japanese gardens. The flora of that region seems to have freed her brushwork, helping to create some of her most lyrical work. Clearly enjoying the sensuousness of the material, Friese creates impastoed layers of paint that are a far cry from the flatness inherent in printmaking.
In her smaller paintings-those 18 x 15" and smaller-she is most consistent and therefore strongest. Unfortunately, the two largest paintings in the show, one of the Badlands and the other a Japanese garden, magnify the weaknesses in her work.
Tamagawa Garden II is problematic because the bottom of the painting is filled with abstract brushstrokes that suggest speckled light, giving the viewer a sort of fragmented depiction of reality, while the top is rendered in a more representational manner. There is no bridge for the viewer to make the visual transition between there styles, so the two techniques don't work together.
Her largest Dakota painting doesn't suffer from the same inconsistency in technique, but the color feels unresolved. Friese begins the big paintings outdoors, working directly from the landscape, then finishes them in the studio. This may be why her larger paintings lack the bite of the smallest works. One senses that the smaller paintings were completed in a short burst, and probably painted entirely from direct observation of the landscape. That immediacy is sorely missing in the larger paintings.
There is a sense of freedom to her brushwork that often gives way to a lack of coherence. The brush makes swirling, almost gestural sweeps in some of the graden pictures, and, while energetic, the strokes refuse to attach themselves to any form and end up feeling awkward and out of place.
Overall, one feels that Friese's painterly work is still developing, but headed in the right direction.