Lunch: Paintings of Henry Isaacs and Craig Mooney

From the catalog “New Works by Craig Mooney and Henry Isaacs” for the exhibition of the same title, June 25 to July 21, 2011 at The Gallery on Chase Hill, Kennebunkport, Maine.

The pairing of Henry Isaacs and Craig Mooney is not an obvious one. It is like organizing a lunch for your sister-in-law’s second cousin from the countryside of New England with your brother’s wife’s first cousin once removed who lives the urban life of New York. They are roughly twenty years apart in age. They work in the same field and they may both show up wearing the same blue cardigan, but their presentations and personalities are fundamentally different. Despite their differences, they click perfectly and find they have much more in common than knowing you and your penchant for organizing lunches between strangers.

One of the things that makes the paintings of Isaacs and Mooney work together so beautifully is their common roots and the trajectory of the art traditions that inform their work. The paintings of Isaacs and Mooney each show a Fauvist influence, but the real story of this pair is how each has developed a unique style.

july-4-isleford-by-henry-isaacs

Isaacs’ paintings reflect André Derain’s emphasis of painterly qualities over representation. In July 4th, Islesford, Isaacs renders the scene with great detail: the American flag, the ramble of dock shacks, the line of boats on the shore, the trucks in the parking lot, and the bicycles waiting for the return of their riders. Boats sail in the background. Isaacs gives the viewer just enough of these elements to recognize them, and then takes the viewer on a fantastic escapade of paint and color: the goldenrod bottoms of the boats executed with single brush strokes, the patchwork of greens and blues of the shore, and the trucks painted in four shades of rusty red with some dots of blue for good measure. The painting is an explosion of the moment.

broad-beach-by-craig-mooney

By contrast, Mooney’s paintings are more akin to the work of Milton Avery, whose work moved away from Fauvism in the 1930s when he met Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko at New York’s Opportunity Gallery on 56th Street. Under Gottlieb and Rothko, Avery came to develop a restraint that underscored the emotionality of his paintings. Mooney has perfected it. Broad Beach shows four people walking along the shore at low tide. Mooney renders the expanse of sand in a series of tans and pinks and the sky in subtle blues and light grays. The two fields meet at a soft horizon. The people, whose presence allows the viewer to enter into the scene of the painting, are rendered with one, two, or three simple daubs of paint.

The arc of landscape (and seascape) painting leaves the 19th century on the solid ground of the Impressionists (and its post- and neo-impressionist progeny), who by 1901 are dominating the genre. So much happened in the 20th century and art took many a detour. The genre of landscape painting did not evolve as much as it absorbed the change that was swirling around it. The arc of 20th century landscape painting is a blur, but these two artists rise in this century with total clarity of style and solid execution. Landscape painting of the 21st century will be marked by a synthesis and refinement of approach and technique and these two artists are perfect examples of that phenomenon. Lunch with the two of them would make for a perfect afternoon.