The lushly brushed paintings (some with collage elements) in Jeff Myers’ strong solo show at Elliott Fouts Gallery are bold, brash and, for the most part, brilliant. His hybrid images of antiquated, abandoned tractors and other farm equipment in dreamlike landscapes and exotic female figures in fantasy settings live up to the show’s title “Larger Than Life,” both in scale and conception.
Combining representation and abstraction, works like “Parisian Graffiti Tractor,” with its giant farm machine set against Delta farmlands and water, is so vigorously painted it’s almost overwhelming. Filigreed with photo transfers of French urban graffiti, it’s wonderfully odd and pleasurably decorated with intricate patterns.
Overwhelming, too, are a pair of oil and collage paintings of fanciful nudes. “The Geneticist,” a powerful female figure in a visionary indoor/outdoor setting kneeling amid what might be lushly colored flower petals in a room whose back wall morphs into a waterfall, is as hauntingly enigmatic as Giorgione’s nude in a pastoral landscape. “Cloud Memories of the Northwest” gives us a witchy woman wizard in a landscape of flame-like forms and blowsy trees and clouds that might have come out of a Nordic myth or a visual depiction of “The Hall of the Mountain Kings.”.
Conveying the sheer excitement of paint and the glories of strong color, these works take me back to the joyous abandon and compelling oddity of the large-scale paintings in Myers’ debut show at the Michael Himovitz Gallery in1988 when he was 19. Over the years, he has grown in mastery, while continuing to explore social and ecological themes and the often uncomfortable relationship between nature and technology.
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His current show ranges from “Standing Forest,” an exotic female figure that might have sprung from a magical rain forest, to “Night Tractor Lines,” a rich image of a tractor set against deep brown fields with corduroy-like furrows and sinuously incised lines in mud-luscious earth. It’s the most subdued of the tractor paintings but perhaps the most formally resolved.
Of the large tractor paintings, “Lion,” with its tarry black background, suggests a bad-ass mashup of a motorcycle and a tractor, more like a Harley than a John Deere. “Giant” is a monster of a tractor set against runs of pale blue paint that suggest the grandeur of Niagara Falls with an arcing rainbow over its top. “Tractor Landscape” is a beautifully painted hybrid image that conflates a farm machine with an autumnal forest.
Some of his works reflect the influence of Wayne Thiebaud, with whom Myers studied for many years. Among them, “Parisian Graffiti Tractor,” “Levitating,” a beautifully rendered female nude seen from the back; a radiant painting of an old Singer sewing machine stitching roadways on a tabletop; and “Two Sierra Nevada Boulders,” reminiscent of Thiebaud’s recent paintings of mountains. Homages rather than knockoffs, they stand as tributes to a revered teacher.
One of the oddest paintings in the show, “Lone Scout,” references Frederic Remington’s famous painting of an American Indian on horseback looking into the distance, which in this case is a collage of photographic images of the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a chaotic canvas covered with abstract markings that convey a sense of impending calamity.
Some of the works in the show – small images of a businessman perched on a falling boulder, an island of Delta farmland and trees rising up under a rainbow stained sky reminiscent of Morris Lewis’ abstractions, an elfin girl out of a Maxfield Parrish painting in a delicate pastel landscape with a striped sky and a mysterious, long rake-like implement – are intriguing but not as compelling as his larger works.
Jeff Myers: Larger than Life
Where: Elliott Fouts Gallery, 1831 P St..
When: Through Nov. 30. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.