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Hearne Pardee @ Alex Bult

108th St. NY, 1980

This 30-year retrospective of Hearne Pardee’s landscape paintings shows the distance, both geographically and stylistically, that an artist can travel through a career.  The 20 easel-sized paintings, from locations where Pardeelived and traveled in America and Europe, are also a product of his influences and personal development as an artist responding to the landscapes he encountered.

The earliest paintings on view, dating from the mid-70s to 1980, are East Coast urban streetscapes, almost all of them devoid of people.  The buildings and the leafless trees on the empty streets are illuminated by a low clear winter light that separates highlights and shadows into sharply contrasting bands of light and dark.  Pardee writes that Cézanne inspired these early paintings, and this influence can be seen in the stark geometries and interlocking compositions that dominate the canvasses.   Stiff branches and telephone poles break the bright blue of the sky into geometric shapes that often mirror the planes of the architecture.  Even though they are quintessentially American scenes, featuring New York and New Jersey, the lingering connection to the traditions of European Modernism and the vocabulary of formal abstraction that informed academically trained East Coast painters of his generation is clearly evident.

Cézanne’s influence is most apparent in the group of paintings from Umbria, Italy, done in 1984.  The rich, deep complimentary palette and highly structured compositions, as well as the loosening brush strokes echo the master, and even though the sunlight helps to give form to the geographies of these landscapes, the rigorously articulated compositions are what give form to the paintings.  It is though Pardee was seeing these Italian scenes through the filter of Cézanne’s logical romanticism.
China Lake, Maine, 1986

The paintings from the mid-80s follow his travels around the United States, from Maine to New Mexico, where the landscape itself expands and the sky opens.  They also show a shift in his brushwork and composition.  Always a vigorous painter, Pardee employed an even stronger gesture and richer palette to interpret the interaction between the land and the sky in these new locations.  No longer interconnected, these two elements coexist instead, each defined by separate strong directional brushwork that almost acts like the wind blowing through the territory.

With the earth and sky in their relative locations, terrestrial and celestial, Pardee was free to explore the dynamics of color and texture, with individual forms: trees, mountains, clouds, each aggressively rendered and defined in straightforward passages, color against color, light against dark.
When he moved to Northern California in 2001, his response to the new terrain and the brilliant light (and heat) of the Central Valley led to another transformation of his work.  The open fields and gentle slopes contoured with farm roads and lines of mowed hay allowed him to create lyrical, dynamic compositions, with movement back into and through the landscape.  He also explored the specific qualities of the quotidian suburban streets of the small valley towns.  In these paintings, the sunlight is often directly overhead, and the trees do not break into the sky as much as they protect and give shade.  The streets are still empty, but the houses are occupied, with an observed quality of domesticity.  Perhaps mirroring the smooth stucco walls of the late-20th Century tract homes, Pardee’s brushwork has calmed, and the planes of his earliest works have returned.  He uses omnipresent suburban pastel palette to excellent advantage here, where slight shifts of warm tones and pooled shadows create a consonant landscape of quiet exteriors that both protect and contain the inhabitants on endless summer days.
"Everyday Light: Oil Paintings by Hearne Pardee" @ Alex Bult Gallery through June 1, 2013. 
About the Author:
Chris Daubert is an artist and curator living in the Central Valley of California.  He is the Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Sacramento City College. He creates large interactive site-specific installations that often explore the relationship between people and the land they live in. 

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