Shirley Dort makes small paper wall-reliefs portraying the rural vista as a series of curtains or screens stacked to the horizon. Dort’s landscapes are the kind where edges of fields or woods are determined not by roads and buildings but, if not by nature, by agricultural practices and property lines. True to the landscapes typical in Virginia, her plains heave and roll, causing a weaving effect of foreground, middle ground and background.
Dort plays up the layers of space by building them with separate layers of paper stacked against each other like stage scenery. With a depth of only a few inches, Dort can’t create an illusion of deep space and doesn’t try. In fact, there is a playful simplicity to these vignettes reminiscent of puppet-theater stage sets. What her theatrical scene setting does successfully is reference optical sensations enough to trigger memories of such sliding landscapes. The viewer will recognize the topography of Dort’s world and may even sense it underfoot.
Dort’s direct approach with materials serves to jar the viewer’s memory of rural landscape, too. Her saturated hues, sometimes textured with twigs and straw, provide literal and figurative weight, as if mud and grass were her media instead of paint. In her most satisfying composition, “Creek in the Woods,” she ties multiple landscape features into a dense sequence of spaces that the eye can stroll through. Dort peels away at some of the layers of a visually complex scene — frilly tree foliage contrasted with smooth fields, a linear creek following an implied slope — and provides the viewer with a path where these elements might be absorbed.
Eugene Vango’s paintings display a similar appreciation for the woven quality of landscapes, but his heart is in the paint, color and pattern. Influenced by African textile design, he paints with short diagonal strokes that form a basket-weave effect. While Vango titles his canvasses as landscapes, he only vaguely suggests them with foggy horizons. Unlike Dort’s scenery, Vango’s places seem more of the spirit than of the earth. — Paulette Roberts-Pullen
“Long Summer Walks: Landscapes, Reliefs and Abstractions” is on display at the Elegba Folklore Society, 101 E. Broad St., through Aug. 31.
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