Gretchen Dow Simpson

From Art News - May, 1995

As a painter, Gretchen Dow Simpson is best known for her crisp, sunny close-up views of New England architecture that have often been published as covers for the New Yorker magazine. When she traveled to Morocco recently, hoping to find a totally different environment, she ended up being attracted to details, proportions, and lighting effects that reminder her of New England. The result was a series of vibrant oil paintings that were shown at Mary Ryan alongside a smaller group of New England works.

A photographer before she was a painter, Simpson has a flair for focusing on doors, windows, or sections of walls that allow limited-perspective views into, out of, or beyond a building. An emphasis on the solid geometry of the buildings as well as the planar geometry of surface decoration is further enlivened by the strong contrasts of light and shadow.

In the Moroccon works, with their marvelous ochers, reddish browns, pale greens, peacock blues, and opalescent whites, the play of lights and darks heightens a sense of mystery. In Taliovine 1, for example, the deep brown shadow cast by the almost windowless tower emphasizes its solidity and seeming impenetrability, and the bright blue of the sky above is almost as opaque as the abutting walls.

In the New England works, even cropped close-ups of painted wooden walls may become dramatic or mysterious. Shadows conceal large areas of a surface, creating sharp triangular patterns. The contrasting areas of bright light focus attention on the regularity of horizontal or vertical architectural elements, often transforming them into lively, appealing designs.


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