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Dion Yannatos at the Woodstock Artists Association

ART TIMES Mar, 2004

"Heart of the Forest" 64 x 48" (Oil on Panel)

SOME THIRTY-FIVE works — paintings, gouaches, drawings, and lithographs — comprise this show,* enough to make the judgment that, for this viewer, Dion Yannatos is well on his way to carving a strong name for himself as an accomplished landscape painter. Ranging from six small oils that feature seascapes to large-scale oils — including one diptych and one triptych —, which depict the "heart of the forest," the exhibit includes a smattering of drawings that have obviously served the artist as studies for the larger paintings. From study to finished canvas, it is obvious that this is the work of a serious painter, one who takes his subject from initial impression through an inner process of creative assimilation. This is especially true of those works that, strictly speaking, fall under the defining limits of the exhibit’s title — viz., those that share with us images from the forests of the Pacific northwest. (The seascapes seem of a piece and not obviously a part of the stated theme — but more of that, shortly). More than simple replications of specific forest scenes, Yannatos’s paintings (as well as his studies) indeed aim at the "heart" of his motifs. As mentioned above, what lies before him is not the "whole story," and it is only after it passes through his aesthetic sensibilities that we begin to see what he is driving at. It matters little, in the final analysis, that these are depictions of a forest in a particular geographic location of the United States since it is not this group of trees that Yannatos is attempting to show us as much as it is all trees, all forests. Likewise, individual titles of the paintings become irrelevant since it is not specificity that the painter seems to be after, but rather what underlies all such manifestations of nature — whether it image forth to our senses as trees or not. Standing in the middle of the gallery, one gets a sense of not looking at pictures of a forest landscape, but of actually standing within such a forest. Such is Yannatos’s sensibility to nature and his skill in taming her through the brush, that we are brought into that same inner vision that seems to inform him — or as near as we can get to the private mind-workings of an artist. That he is sensitive to the mysterious energy of illusion inherent in the impact of light on the retina — that trick of nature to present vibrant atoms to our eyes as "trees," "leaves," or "earth" — is evident not only in the almost spasmodic handling of the brush, but also in the odd melding of color that he so successfully weaves into — not just a visual impression — but also a tactile one that is "felt" in one’s viscera. Though always on the verge of collapsing into mere formal expressions of color and form, his paintings of forests never quite lose themselves in frivolous "mind" pictures — they always manage to remain "forests." This is fine painting, indeed, and shows the power of controlling that subtle balance between "reality" and an artist’s subjective impression — too far either way and the result can be one of hackneyed academicism or of egoistic indulgence, neither one ever very satisfying as fine art since lasting art has always proven to lie somewhere in between. To turn now to the seascapes, both in scale and in treatment these six small oil paintings might well have been done by a different sensibility — if not a different hand. Less "transformed" by Yannatos’s visual aesthetics, these lean more toward the "actual" scene that ostensibly attracted the artist’s eye in the first place. Straightforward renditions, these are more in the classical tradition, more representations of what the eye "sees" rather than what it "feels." As such, they are little gems and, depending upon the viewer’s private taste may well be judged the "better" of the paintings. They are certainly well done and, as painterly productions, stand among the very best of the landscape genre. Though "different" — both, I suspect, in intent as well as in technique — these six paintings, though perhaps less imbued by the artist’s inner imprint, rather nicely hold their own next to their large-scale neighbors — and merely point up the versatility of the painter. This is a painter to watch and, the next time you come across his name, I suspect you would not be disappointed if you went out of your way to take a look.

*("Heart of the Forest: Paintings from the Pacific Northwest by Dion Yannatos" (thru Mar 7): Woodstock Artists Association, 28 Tinker St., Woodstock, NY (845) 679-2940).

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