Dual focus

Artists Jeanette Meehan and Darren Whalen offer differing takes on realism in new works at the Butler Gallery

Published on September 20, 2013

“New Works” pairs two painters who both fall within the (very broad) spectrum of realism.
There are 11 pieces by Jeanette Meehan, eight from Darren Whalen, all oil on canvas, and they are presented unframed, floating against the walls.

They all feature recognizable objects or people in natural states (paint is scudding, facial expressions are shadowed). But the effect of each visual artist is very different.

Whalen seems to frame an encapsulated mythic portraiture that is steeped in the vernacular, while Meehan composes still lifes of often very ordinary equipment, or ’scapes of industrial infrastructure.

The work of both artists is certainly realism in the sense that people and things are depicted with accuracy and without idealization.

In Meehan’s “Two Trailers at Roddickton,” for example, the painted siding shows the scuff of elements and some of the signage has been effaced.

At the same time, both artists convey a sense of narrative, even storytelling.

This is most obvious in Whalen’s work.

In “Men Will Work And Women Will Weep,” for example, two figures are posed within a large, vertical canvas.

In the background, up on a fishing stage, a young woman looks out towards the sea. In the foreground, down on the beach, a man stands, slightly hunched; he seems to be looking into himself, hugging into himself.

There is a connection between the two, but it’s deliberately ambiguous. They might not even exist in the same time. But some sad tale links them.

In “Beacon,” a girl holds aloft an oil lamp. Besides the old-fashioned-ness of the light source, there is something archetypal about her — a source of inspiration? A guide to lead us out of (or into) a maze?

Nearby the young man in “After The Rain” directs his challenging gaze right out to the viewer, his head crowned by his yellow slicker.

Meehan, meanwhile, finds a resonant precision in such things as a diesel can wafted by sand, or a crumpled Red Bull can.

“Tub and Spool” has these two objects posed against the horizontal grill of a ship’s railing, itself configured against a grid of gray deck and blue water, tones echoed in the tub and spool.

The palette of each artist contrasts nicely.

Palette might not be the right word — they both use a full range of tones — it is the intensity in which they apply it that is so individual.

Whalen has a lot of grays, lots of mists, even darkness. See “Linger,” with a woman in long brown dress, standing outside a battered, weathered house, her face turned up towards a window, her hand touching the clapboard. (And again there is the sense of concurrent timelines, like we are seeing the house as it is today, while she s a spectral witness of how it used to be.)

Meehan is bolder, sunnier, with edgings and unfurling of oranges and pinks and yellows.

Her floral pieces, “Rhododendron” and  “Azalea,” are undulations of bright lace.

“Refection on a Wharf,” and “Breakwater at Green Island Brook,” are serenely illuminated. It is present, actual, here and now, while Whalen’s work has a prism of lore, or memory.

“New Works” by Jeanette Meehan and Darren Whalen continues at the Emma Butler Gallery until Sept. 28.