Dale Loy New Work
Peter Sacks, painter, poet and Marquand Professor of Literature at Harvard University, writing of Dale Loy’s newest work, speaks of “the beauty, concentration and purity of these new images, in which so much has been distilled, invented, discovered, placed and replaced -- above all somehow saved, despite a sense of hazard and threat. With their atmospheric backgrounds, their carefully meditated supporting surfaces, their post-Morandi, micro-monumental, perhaps epitaphic saturations, these works feel quietly momentous.” There is “also the play of difference yet formal and analogical consistency between those which suggest buildings or parts or gatherings of buildings, and those which portray books – themselves kinds of constructions, places of searches and stored findings, habitations both for the eye and the spirit.”
In earlier essays about Loy’s work, Dr. Sacks wrote in a brouchure for an exhibition at the United States Mission to the United Nations, celebrating the opening of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, in 1993:
“The best landscape paintings have always given us more than a representation of the natural world and the history of such paintings has reflected, explored, and shaped our relation not just to our changing arts or to the altering world around us, but also to that unstable compound for which we have kept the paradoxical term “human nature.” In its particular addition to the development of such paintings and explorations, Dale Loy’s new work is at the forefront of the most serious contemporary art.
Because of the contradiction between its subject – nature – and its own identify as unnatural artifact, and because it articulates the very point of contact yet separation between the human and natural worlds, landscape painting has had to wrestle with the increasingly tense exchanges between these worlds – exchanges that are at once pressingly contemporary, and yet as ancient as the sources of myth. Intuitively, Dale Loy’s recent work responds to a specific myth that expresses many of these tensions, the myth of Antaeus. Giant son of the earth, embodiment of the very combination nature/man, Antaeus wrestles against Hercules. With every fall he renews his strength by restored contact with the earth, until Hercules (traditionally regarded as the less earthbound and more “rational” of the two) lifts him bodily from his origins, suspends him in the air, and crushes the life out of him. In a sense, this myth is a metaphor of our relation to the earth, and perhaps of landscape painting itself. In their deeply rooted yet deliberately abstracted and painterly evocations of the brooding presence of trees, caves, migratory herds, far hills, sea and sky, Dale Loy’s paintings re-embody the Antaean myth at its most dramatic and haunting.
The aesthetic force and sheer beauty of this work is inseparable from its power to disturb its viewer. The paintings are radiant, dynamic, celebratory, above all rich with the complex vitality, as well as spatial and temporal magnitude, we associate with nature itself, particularly in its untamed and until recently, invulnerable reaches. But these canvases suggest troubling distortions and conflicts. There are collage-like recompositions of space, and abrupt contrasts of figurative and abstract passages in which firmly apprehended objects are suddenly lost or transformed. Light will change dramatically to dark, lush colors to acid, warm to cold; or dense and detailed brushstrokes will lead the eye into thinly painted areas. In a single canvas one may move from dawn to nightfall, from the very near to the remote, from origins to ends or possible renewals. One’s view is further challenged by ambiguities – transitions are obscured, foregrounds become impenetrable, trees take on a flame-like quality or turn cavernous with shadow, animals cluster as for refuge or within an atmosphere of entrapment. Are these images of co-existence, or of competition for threatened resources? Is the pictorial power itself so great as occasionally to suggest that the very surface of nature has been ripped away to expose its uncontainable forces – a gesture that is at once visually exhilarating and vibrant, yet eruptive and menacing?
Throughout, Dale Loy’s brushstroke, combining an expressive draftsmanship and a resonant use of color, is both brilliantly nervous and assured – a perfect vehicle for paintings that are at once earthly and spiritual. So too this blend of technique and vision unifies a consistent body of work that moves, like a narrative journey, or myth itself, from an immediate responsiveness, toward deep responsibilities, both to her art and its ongoing tradition, and to the beauty and fate of our natural environment.
The Spanish poet, Jorge Guillén, wrote, ‘The landscape imagines me.’ With great vigor and almost mystical sensitivity, Dale Loy’s paintings, too, conjure new identities – not only within the natural world, but also within ourselves.
First appeared in a brouchure: New Paintings by Dale Loy, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 1990
Postscript, June 1993, for the Exhibition at the U.S.Mission to the United Nations, New York, N.Y.
During the past year, Dale Loy has continued her remarkable Antaeus series of paintings and collages, deepening the somber radiance of their intensity as works of art, while also widening their focus to include elements of a more specifically human history and fate.
Intimate yet monumental, the sequence of natural vistas titled ‘From the Cave’ envisions a ravaged but nonetheless miraculously evolving world, a place of refuge and of possible sustenance and recovery. These scenes mark the threshold between inner and outer realms, between darkness and light, earth and sky, imagination and reality, withdrawal and renewed prospect. This is the place of Dale Loy’s art itself, which journeys from an abstraction and collage all the way back to the cave walls and thus to the implied prehistory both of painting and of humankind.
While situating us all on this threshold between a recognition of source and a perception of present threat or recovery, Dale Loy has created such new thematic works as ‘Forced March,’ ‘Air-Drop,’ ‘Bosnia,’ ‘The Trail,’ and ‘Caught Fleeing.’ These bring home to us stark images of warfare and of threatened human survival. But the images are transformed beyond sheer reportage, for they have emerged both as indelible symbols and as profound acts in their own right. By acts I mean achievements of witness and of carefully composed re-presentations that move past shock into embodied states of empathy in the presence of suffering and of desperate resilience. Such resilience must include both a vision and a strongly felt sensation of integrities that bind us all to a single creatural world, a shared landscape in which we may all be ‘caught fleeing.’ Very few contemporary painters have the artistic and human capacities to offer us works of such compassion, such haunting power and such original beauty.
(Images of some of these older paintings will be available soon.)
Exhibition Rome, 2002
“Dale Loy’s new paintings tend to be small and their subjects few. Solid blocks, alone or in a group, sit high and off-center on a surface that sometimes appears to be a table and sometimes a reach of bare land. The background is usually dark and the blocks seem to generate their own luminosity. This is the way her paintings appear on first viewing. They establish what Wallace Stevens has called a ‘fecund minimum.’ The longer we look at them, the more suggestive they become. Their modesty turns into grandeur, their presence into a form of survival. Their light, which at first seems eerie, becomes oddly, inexplicably celebratory. They are proof of the power of simplicity, even of severity, to enchant. This is their triumph”
Mark Strand, Exhibition brouchure, Palazzo Firenze, Rome, 2002.
International Herald Tribune
Italy Daily – November 27, 2002
By Elisabetta Povelodo
An American artist exhibits in Rome
ROME. Dale Haven Loy last week presented her calling card to the Italian art scene with a small exhibit of 18 paintings at the Dante Aleghieri Society in Rome’s Palazzo Firenze.
It was a long-overdue event in a country that has both inspired her and provided models for her luminous palette.
The show plays like a symphony with several variations on her theme. In this case the simple juxtaposition of a block, or blocks, and a horizon line. Color and light are the transforming agents, imbuing each piece with the essence of something else: a northern landscape, a 15th century pradella – the long narrative paintings found at the base of altars – a wind-tossed sea, a Mediterranean village.
Speaking of these works, American poet Mark Strand observed that “the more we look at them, the more suggestive they become. Their modesty turns into grandeur, their presence into a form of survival.” He wrote in the exhibit invitation. “They are proof of the power of simplicity, even of severity, to enchant. This is their triumph.”
Their formal simplicity, however, is belied by the subtle complexity of the way Loy handles light to give depth and substance to the pieces, the colors modeled so deftly that they literally resonate with inner luminosity.
If atemporal, the paintings evoke other images in time: gilded Sienese altar pieces, landscapes from the palette of Jacob van Ruisdael or Corot, JMW Turner strapped to the mast to capture a sea at storm.
The artist explained that the show revolves around one painting, larger than the others, which she painted four years ago in the United States. Its inspiration was a poem by Nobel laureate Eugenio Montale ruminating on a melancholy landscape.
“Over the years, my intent has always been to discover light in the darkness, on a surface, a mysterious radiance that can come across as both apocalyptic and regenerative” she said in Rome. “An ambivalence that’s born of my fears for the environment and efforts to protect it.”
It’s family cause. Loy’s husband, Frank E. Loy, was Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs in the Clinton administration, and oversaw, among other things, policy regarding international environment and science.
Loy, born in Los Angeles, trained in art at UCLA and at the American University in Washington, DC. She has shown widely in the United States, and abroad.
“I decided to curate an exhibit of Loy’s paintings because I find her work very deep,” said Cornelia Lauf, curator of both the show and the American Academy in Rome at last week’s opening. “And because in such a delicate international moment it is important to hear an American voice that isn’t encumbered by politics.”
The exhibit runs through Dec. 7.
Los Angeles Exhibition, 1999
Catalogue Essay: Henry T. Hopkins
“Dale Haven Loy’s current exhibition is simply entitled ‘New Work’ which is of interest to me because her earlier exhibition titles drew heavily upon myth, legend and pre-history, reflecting the artist’s avid interest in examining man’s rapacious activity on and upon his earthly dwelling place.
Clearly, these new paintings, richly and lovingly worked, appear to be less apocalyptic than in her last exhibition here, especially because they deal with the images of living trees rather than the darkly impastoed, barren and vast landscapes of the past. These paintings remain Landscapes of the Mind however, even though Loy references specific trees and locations from her formative years in Southern California.
Do these paintings then signal a renewed faith in mankind and his activities here on earth? I doubt it. Loy is too keenly committed to pull back from recent events that have proven our destructive powers to be fully intact if not accelerating. I would rather think of these works as a poetic pause in tribute to the great landscape tradition in the history of art and a simple acknowledgement that trees in all of their glory have been on our planet longer than we have and will without doubt be here long after we are gone.”
Catalogue Essay: W. S. Merwin
“It is obviously appropriate and it even seems logical that Dale Haven Loy’s focus on the world as a vision, a life seen, should have fixed at last on trees, the image of the tree, as a hologram and metaphor of the life that sees. Few if any living phenomena embody so completely both the urge to continuity and the precariousness of life, its depth, its gestures of assent and bearing and acceptance, as those gestures are known to us who have come to them more recently.
Since before the Gilgamish epic humans who have put their trust in the imagination and have been guided by it have been taught by metaphor in all its modes that the whole of physical life is the evolving image of our psychic presence, that the life of the tree is our life and the fall of the tree is not separate from our own. By the time Dale Haven Loy’s painter’s eye was drawn by two young plane trees on the Campo Santa Margherita, in Venice, in 1997, into the world of trees, and the world as trees, it had become clear at last to a growing number of humans that the fate of trees is inseparable for our own. In her trees as they appear to us that was never in doubt.
But she is an artist not an advocate, and what makes her work vivid and startling, recognizable and revealing, is not a rational plan or a concept but what she does with what she sees, which lets her see it, what transformation she manages and how what she senses evolves into appearance. From years back her seen world has implied its own depths and reflections. The forms and colors of her huge landscapes are also those of lichens and fungi on dead wood, and the wrack of the tideline, and the geographies of animal fur and birds’ bodies and human skin.
Penetrating one image evokes another, with the suggestion that they evolved together and are present in each other. So it is not surprising that though the subjects range from the moment the faces of cattle are staring through, to vast vistas and seasons of earth, to trees leading into themselves, they are all aspects of a visionary world with its own authority and wonder.”