Jane Smaldone’s paintings are rendered with a fetching awkwardness and seeming naiveté that can mask how complexly, alluringly eerily bewitching her scenes are.
In her new show at Nielsen Gallery, the Roslindale artist’s 2009 canvas “In a Colorful World (Girl with Red Sky)” (pictured above) is a red-on-red symphony featuring her daughter in what looks like a red fleece top and gold-green skirt (note the rubbed on lacy patterning) seated before a cloudy deep red backdrop. A blue butterfly flits by. A green bird perches on a branch. Red flowers sprouting up from a bottom corner seem to have eyes. The air is charged with a buzzing nervous energy that insinuates itself into your consciousness.
This feeling and Smaldone’s style have echoes in colonial American folk art, Max Ernst’s and James Ensor’s surrealism, Martin Johnson Heade’s hothouse orchids, plus a dash of Florine Stettheimer’s dreamy drawing-room confections.
So much of the crackle of Smaldone’s paintings comes from her feel for color (rich reds, sickly grays and greens) and her careful compositions. Each painting tends to focus on a few things particularly placed – her coming-of-age daughter, a vase of flowers, a stone, a broken branch, a bird. Each one accenting the others. It’s like a pieces in an exquisitely played board game or rocks in a Japanese garden. Each piece lands in just the right place and is freighted with feeling.
Jane Smaldone, “New Paintings,” Nielsen Gallery, 179 Newbury St., Boston, May 9 to June 6, 2009.
Previously: Jane Smaldone’s exhibit at Nielsen in 2006.
Pictured from top to bottom:
“In a Colorful World (Girl with Red Sky),” 2009; “Cheerful Still Life,” 2009; “Young Girl with Pet Gecko,” 2008-2009; “Study for ‘In a Colorful World...’", 2008; “So Much Young Then (Isabel with Big Beads),” 2009; and “Still Life with Beach Stones,” 2008.