The power of paint

With the same media, two artists look inward to create mythic images.

By Tanya Hartman, for The Kansas City Star

Published 2/13/2014

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When poet T.S. Eliot said "genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood, " he meant that we recognize truth in rhythm and sound before we construct linguistic interpretation.

The same is true for painting: Color, mark, cadence and imagery evoke surges of emotion that precede intellectual understanding.

This power in oil paint to express what is mysterious and transcendent is evident in a new exhibit at Rachael Cozad Fine Art. "Angela Fraleigh and Davin Watne: New Work" inaugurates a series that will combine the work of an emerging artist from Kansas City with that of a more established artist from outside the region. Each pairing will be on display in Cozad's airy and light-dappled home for six months.

Both Kansas City-based Watne and East Coast-based Fraleigh use oil paint as a vehicle to create mythic images - public dreams that defy predictable interpretation. Neither artist addresses autobiographical content, but both use elements from their inner lives as creative inspiration.

Upon entering the large dining area, the viewer is presented with two large paintings. Davin Watne's "Cathexis Eye" faces Angela Fraleigh's "You Weren't Haunted Those Two Days, You Were Filled With Light."

Both artists use images as a framework upon which to hang paint, but each does so very differently.

The canvas of "Cathexis Eye" is diamond shaped. At first glance, the work presents a single image of a female eye, heavily lidded, festooned with mascara and shimmering in metallic makeup. The painting begins in matte, flat Caucasian flesh color that builds in luminosity as the geometric planes fracture. Near to the iris, the marks break down into almost Rorschach-like symmetrical patterning.

Up close, the marks evoke a J.M.W. Turner seascape, and the whiplash lines of the eyebrow become a beautiful excuse for linear mark making. The imagery seems on the cusp of dissolving. Through beautiful and microscopic paint manipulations, the artist invites us to look past the image of an eye and to go instead into the optical pixilated world of shape and color.

In a recent interview, Watne said the work addresses desire and how we are attracted by advertising and yet cognizant of how it manipulates us. The eye seduces us into a pure swoon of visual pleasure, and we cannot stop looking, just as Watne himself is "hopelessly attracted to these aesthetic forms."

Fraleigh's process allows her to use images of incredible clarity and reality in proximity to sweeping passages of abstract paint in a manner that is utterly convincing and alluring.

Fraleigh's images support a lively choreography of marks and paint applications. In a recent interview, she explained that she starts each work with a basic, loose compositional structure and then pours paint upon it and against it, going back and forth and losing parts of the original idea until "letting the paint take over feels like a collaborative process."

In her artist's statement Fraleigh writes about paint as being "violent and seductive, threatening and unpredictable, it complicates the image, leaving us unsure if the figures are being birthed or eaten away."

In "You Weren't Haunted Those Two Days, You Were Filled With Light, " the dried paint puddles and sags in places like old elephant hide. These wrinkled patches catch glistening oil glazes and sparkle like jewels. In other spots, the paint is scraped raw. The wounded layers reveal underlying color.

In Fraleigh's work, the elements and techniques used to create illusion also carry meaning. In a clot of paint or a digging passage of incised paint, much can be inferred about tenacity, aggression and human persistence. To read Fraleigh's works as narrative is to overlook her use of image as a vehicle to build pure visual delight.

The exhibition continues in a hallway and upstairs, with drawings and paintings by Fraleigh and watercolors by Watne with poignant titles and compelling image transfers.

The opportunity to view works of art in a domestic setting emphasizes how richly a work of art can adorn a home and enrich its environment. The gallery is open by appointment, and Cozad welcomes visitors.