Large colorful works, familiar and fresh, capture the imagination in PMA exhibit

PORTLAND — Lois Dodd’s gift in creativity is to reveal the beauty of designs found in nature; she elevates them from the ordinary by enlarging them into monumental works of art in intricate design patterns.

Over 50 works, from the very large to the very small, are included in Dodd’s major retrospective exhibit titled “Lois Dodd: Catching the Light,” which continues through April 7 at the Portland Museum of Art.

A touch of poetry can be seen in each painting both in Dodd’s abstract work and her realistic work. Each image is a stark exploration of space without frills, whether it focuses on flowers, nature, or an interior and exterior view of architecture.

Dodd’s work helps us see ordinary things in different ways. She catches light in her work in interesting patterns. She is fascinated by geometric shapes found in abstractions of nature and common architectural spaces. Her form of realism seems to go beyond realism focusing right through the common image.

For example, “Self Portrait in Green Window,” an oil on linen created in 1971, shows the artist’s unusual perspective in seeing through a window showing herself reflected in the window.

Multiple geometric images can be seen in another work titled “Springtime Studio Interior,” an oil on canvas created in 1973, where light shines through an open window of an apartment building and an oval mirror leaning against furniture captures space and objects in another part of the room. In fact, the many geometric shapes in this room create sculptural forms of discarded frames and furniture waiting to be reused in different ways.

It is in the work titled, “Cow Parsnip,” an oil on linen created in 1996, on loan from the Colby College Museum of Art, that Dodd shines in perfection, turning an ordinary wild herb into a monumental work of art, magnifying its natural beauty of intricate design with minute detail and stark exploration of space.

Dodd, who was born in 1927 in Montclair, N.J,, first moved to New York as a student at Cooper Union from 1945-1948. She painted in New york during the period in which abstract expressionism flourished in the 1950s as seen in the work of de Kooning and Jackson Pollack. Not a part of a trend, Dodd has always maintained her originality.

In the early 1950s she explored the coast of Maine as part of a group of New York modernists like Fairfield Porter, Rackstraw Downs, Alex Katz and Neil Welliver. She moved to Lincolnville, Maine, near Katz and painted there for many years until she moved to Cushing, where she still spends summers. 

During this period she didn’t fit into the abstract art movement or the realism movement and her works emerged into her own distinct style often combining elements of both abstraction and realism inside each painting. For example in the realist work “Magenta Touch -Me-Not,” an oil on linen created in 2007, Dodd captures a realistic view of nature but magnifies the blossoms of flowers in the work to such a degree the blossoms could be abstract geometric forms.

Dodd is particularly interested in shadows seen in nature as well as shadows seen in corners of architectural spaces as light changes in the environment. Some of her works feature scenes painted by the light of the moon, exploring silouhettes made by nature after dark.

Dodd often works “en plein air” and takes canvases and paints with her into the woods or other locations near her home.

An outstanding work in this exhibit, titled “Woods,” an oil on linen 169 by 36 inches, is a huge vertical view of nature in three separate paintings hung together, vertically, as a triptych. Hung in the center gallery of the exhibit, this piece takes your breath away as you enter the exhibit, seeing it from a distance.

At 86, Dodd is still painting. The Portland exhibit includes 14 tiny recent paintings in a special section added for this exhibit only.  Some outstanding small works include: “Cow Parsnip at Night with Mullein” a tiny oil on aluminum flashing, created in 2011, “Old Apple,”  oil on aluminum flashing, created in 2012, and “Jerusalem Artichokes,” oil on aluminum flashing, created in 2010.

The Dodd show at the PMA was hung beautifully. Color, scale, size, season, topic, and time created all must be considered so that the veiwing flows and artworks complement each other. Walking into the exhibit was like walking into an environment of flowing energy and warm light. 

This exhibition is worth coming to see at the PMA several times because it is so large, powerful, refreshing and uplifting. You will not be disappointed.

The Dodd exhibit was organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo., and has an outstanding hard cover catalogue available in the museum gift shop.

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