Yale students are not the only ones on campus with a diverse range of unrelated talents.
Currently on view at the Whitney Humanities Center gallery is an exhibition titled “Who Knew?” featuring paintings by four professors who are not primarily artists.
And while the paintings by Hazel Carby, Paul Fry, Richard Lalli and John Loge may appear unrelated at first glance, each experiments with brush strokes and layers of planes as a way of expressing nature and organic forms.
Carby, a professor of African American Studies and American Studies, suggested to Mark Bauer, the associate director of the Whitney Humanities Center, that the gallery organize an exhibit of professors’ work, Bauer said. Bauer then invited other professors who he knew painted as well, he said.
“[The paintings] complement and almost comment on each other,” Bauer said. “It’s fascinating to observe the conversation between the paintings and listen in on conversations of people as they go through the exhibit.”
Lalli, Music professor and Master-designate of Jonathan Edwards College, who gave up painting years ago to focus on his musical studies, returned to the medium six years ago. He said he has a particular fascination with watercolor, and several of his pieces are explorations of the movement of pure pigment on Yupo paper, which does not absorb watercolor the way traditional watercolor paper does. Lalli’s style is very abstract, conveying a sense of movement and density. He uses a system of grids in several of his paintings to add structure to the free-forming clouds of pigments.
Bauer noticed Lalli’s work when he visited Lalli several times in the hospital last year after the music professor had suffered a stroke last December. Lalli’s own paintings decorated his hospital room during his two month stay.
Though Lalli has recovered enough to paint again, he said he has had to develop a new style using his non-dominant hand. All of his exhibited work was painted before his stroke, Lalli said.
Lalli’s musical understanding has influenced his painting, he said.
“I love the rhythm of movement of images on the painting, and, of course, that came from music,” Lalli said. “Other design issues such as contrast and form have also been influenced by my interest in music.”
Loge, Timothy Dwight College dean and English lecturer, also began painting recently and had never had his work exhibited before the Whitney’s show.
Loge’s pieces are the smallest and most realistic of the show. The smallness of his paintings serve to accentuate the vastness of the Southern California and Connecticut nature scenes depicted.
“Most engaging for me is playing with the colors and seeing what they can do and show,” Loge wrote in an e-mail. “Some of the accidental effects are a wonder to discover as it is very satisfying to catch and represent something as I intend to.”
As an experienced nature writer, Loge is accustomed to approaching his connection with nature through words, but he said he has been discovering other aspects of this exploration through visual representation.
“As a nature writer may enter a landscape in order to experience it, in my painting I feel I am entering a landscape as I paint it,” Loge wrote. “I appreciate the surprises as much as I appreciate a solicitous rendering of nature.”
All of English professor Paul Fry’s paintings in the exhibition were produced in the past few months after 43 years away from the medium. Fry, who is currently on sabbatical, majored in English and art as an undergraduate at University of California, Los Angeles.
“What you don’t forget is the basic principles of composition,” Fry said. “What you need to re-learn is the necessity of taking quite big risks with those very principles.”
Fry’s abstract paintings depict interlocking layers of textured color in both geometric and organic shapes. He described his work as following the disappearance of landscape into abstraction, with a focus on frames within frames.
Carby’s paintings bridge a connection between the more abstract work of Lalli and Fry and the realism of Loge’s paintings: her watercolors each lean one direction or the other. Organic shapes are often enclosed in the crisp watery edges of a brush stroke or faint pencil line.
In the exhibition labels, Carby describes her own focus to be on an exploration of light, shade, contrast and texture. Even her loosely painted scenes always harken back to a realistic depiction of an outdoor scene. The juxtaposition between blended strokes and separate ones gives movement to her compositions.
The exhibition will be on view until March 5, 2010.