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The late Timothy Whitehead's art reflects his joy in the process of creation. 

The Miracle of Art

There have been many theories on why Paleolithic man painted on the walls deep inside European caves. Sympathetic magic, success in the hunt, implanting mother earth's womb with seed — these are all concepts that charge art not only as a means of power, but one of survival. But perhaps the primitive artist found magic not in the results of his renderings but in the simple process of creation. The application of pigment and binder to a flat surface was a miracle in itself; the ability to represent something, anything without speech or sound must have indeed seemed magical. One senses that Timothy Whitehead too acquired great joy and fascination in this process. Whitehead repeated simple, even na‹ve forms — stick figures, hearts, ancient letters and abstract doodles — for more than 60 years. And like the primitive artists before him, he was endlessly intrigued and captivated by their very nature. "Timothy Whitehead Celebrates 2000" is Main Art Gallery's memorial exhibition to the late Richmond artist who died in June 1999. Whitehead's paintings are reminiscent of the mature art of the Swiss painter Paul Klee — flat, semi-abstract compositions characterized by thick crayonlike lines and grid patterning. Most of the 27 works in the show are small canvases with even smaller ones layered on top. The effect is one of childhood building blocks, even further accentuated by the cheerful "candy-box colors" of aqua, violet, fuchsia and lemon. The flatness of these canvases is simultaneously denied and emphasized by smooth, highly polished stones that are attached to their surface. Whitehead has stated that Celtic mysticism was a strong influence in his art and here, the luster of these gems lends a mystical, magical quality to the works. The use of rune or ancient Germanic alphabetic characters connects his paintings more implicitly to Celtic roots. In three works, "Windows of the Moon," Whitehead begins with a black background and as if writing on a chalkboard, creates thick, white lines in a grid that is randomly filled in with aqua and violet. One seeks to find recognizable imagery — perhaps a ladder or an arrow or a cave opening — but the recognition is more likely in the mind of the viewer than blatantly set forth by the artist. Most of Whitehead's paintings represented at Main Art are quirky, whimsical, playful even. "Grunt," another dual-layered canvas of sherbet pink and blue is embellished with two stones, not of the mystical kind, but of the summer camp type, painted with goofy faces and accompanied by the childlike scrawl, "GRUNT." A jolly stick figure with a circle for a head, rectangle for a torso and asterisks for hands finds his way onto several canvases. Some of Whitehead's most interesting works are purely abstract. "Bright Morning," a large canvas with a spongy texture glows on the wall in fiery tangerine orange. In "Cool Thought," the senses are tempered as washes of Mediterranean blue offer soothing visceral relief. Yet, these solid blocks of pure color and texture are not typical of the artist. He admitted a year ago that, "I have always come back to that same taut surface, to those floating elementary forms, to the candy-box colors, to the fascination with found objects, and to the same little primitive figure that has made its way through all kinds of pictorial weather." Perhaps like the Paleolithic painter of ages past, Whitehead celebrated the pure technical joy of art. The quirky shapes and figures animated before us are old friends that connect to the past and guide to the future. The magic here may not be in the message, but in the overwhelming desire to tap into something ancient and wise, something relevant and
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