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Carol Reeves: Still Life as Safe Haven

Written by: Lisa Rosenfeld

TEA CUPS II - Oil on board 40"x60"

Matisse once said that he wanted his paintings to be "like a comfortable armchair for the viewer" and this seems a statement with which Carol Reeves might readily agree, judging from the amiable appeal of the paintings she is showing at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from November 20th through December 11. (Reception Thursday, November 29, 6 to 8 PM.)

What artists say about their work is never quite so simple as it sounds, however, and Reeves only arrived at her present tranquility after a period of soul searching when, straight out of art school, she wondered if a painter enamored of still life and floral subjects could still be taken seriously and attract a sophisticated art audience. Then she remembered a quote from Mother Teresa: "In this life we cannot do great things; only small things with great love." Ever since, Reeves has attracted collectors and critical acclaim by doing exactly that: painting still life and floral subjects that offer the viewer at least a temporary respite from "the evils and suffering of the world."

However, it is not simply her decision not to "add to the ugliness," as she puts it, that has won Reeves serious attention; it is the bold colors, daring compositions, and dynamic scale of her still life paintings which has enabled her to join the ranks of those postmodern painters who impart to realism a sheer visual impact that once belonged to abstraction alone. The power of Reeves's work is immediately evident in her characteristically large canvas "Red Hot Red," a veritable symphony of vibrant cadmiums, which depicts a brilliant bouquet bursting from a glass vase set among other crystalline vessels and enraptures the viewer by virtue of the artist's way with light and shadow. Particularly impressive is Reeve's handling of the purplish shadows cast by the crimson flowers on the sparkling white tablecloth, which are rendered with such seemingly meticulous verisimilitude as to suggest photorealism. However, on closer inspection it is her restrained yet fluid brushwork, hardly enslaved to actual appearances, which brings the composition alive and lends it an abstract vitality quite equal to its convincing likeness of objects on a tabletop. The same abstract vitality enlivens other pictures by Reeves as well, and is equally striking in compositions such as "Teacups II," where no natural elements are present to evoke a sense of life, except for the living light that gleams on the surface of the gilt-edged china cups lined up as though in a gala procession. It is part and parcel of Reeves's painterly facility that she can move easily between the fluid yet precisely detailed depiction of objects that we see in this and the aforementioned painting to the more Impressionistic technique she employs in still lifes such as "Starfish and Abalone," as well as in breezy outdoor floral subjects such as "Misty Pond #5" and "Hydrangea¬Purple," where her brushwork is at its most loose and juicy.

Looking at and being transported by the paintings of Carol Reeves, one can only be grateful that there are still certain artists who celebrate the beauty that surrounds us and provide a safe haven, however temporary, from worldly care.

Image Credits: TEA CUPS II - Oil on board 40"x60"

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