Sue Miller’s “Coastal Affair” and Iakov Afanassiev’s “Purgation of Superfluities” are an exciting and informed contrast in what can be wrought with oil paint on canvas. Miller channels her environment, and her work is vistas of cream and churn. Afanassiev is often interior (although he does have several landscapes), with objects configured and poised, noted with pinpoint observation. The differences are intriguing, but there is no dissonance in skill; these visual artists work in their own way, but both know what they are doing. Their divergent manners and convergent intensities show well together.
How Miller and Afanassiev use paint to depict their subjects is more than a style or an approach. It seems their entre artistic raison d’être: how they use the paint translates and fortifies how they engage with what they see.
Miller’s paintings are all coastalscapes, with lots of big, big sky; this element can take up as much as four-fifths of the canvas. “Stolen Moment,” for example, has a low, delicate dark curl of land surged with bright water, under a sky huge with thickly wedged white and gray. The energy flows towards the horizon. The pieces are infused with a feeling of paint application, and also reduction, as the paint is not built up into dense peaks and curls but seems to have been put on, layered, then removed or even scraped away.
This process fuses forms as well as colours. There are no distinct lines or exact delineations. Land runs with water and films to sky. And yet the way the paint is manipulated is quite discrete as land, water, sky, and cloud. “Coasting Home” is a calibration of marks rising from ocean through shore to firmament. “Anticipation” adds a rare inclusion of clapboard houses.
In “Passion Play” there are scuddings, furrows, and plumes of gray, gold, greens heavily dolloped with white. The vigour is incredible and yet the composition remains clear.
Afanassiev’s images are more classically explored. As mentioned, he does have scenes from outdoors, including “Islands,” “Last Light,” and “Red House on the Trail.” This are coolly studied views, concerned with natural light, realistically done with slight susurrations in the edges of waves or shorelines.
These are fine, but the figures and still lifes seem more signature. These include flowers in a vase, pairings of fruit, and reclining nudes. “Daffodils,” for example, shows three stems in a glass vase against ruby burnished light. This elegance is both fresh and timeless. There are duets of red and green peppers, eggplants, and apples. There are graceful nudes, usually draped with fabric, often viewed from the back, standing, bending and lying down.
Two other paintings feature different subject matter. “Ballet Lesson” focuses on a dance teacher and a row of little pupils, while “Purple Umbrella” has a young woman seated on a wooden chair, her legs crossed, her eyes down, holding an umbrella. Her clothes are contemporary — jeans, a loose shirt. The umbrella has a funky modern bow. At the same time the lucent gentle light, the model’s evocative and serene expression and the overall quality of attention are traditionally outside of trends, and characteristic.
These two shows, with their striking distinctions of painters and paint, continue at The Leyton Gallery until Sept. 25.