The Robischon Gallery is presenting Joellyn Duesberry: A Brief Survey of Place, which features paintings by a Colorado artist whose style lies somewhere between these two extremes. Though Duesberry's paintings are very traditional in character, there's something about them that assures viewers that they are not seeing antiques, but rather artifacts representing our own time.
Duesberry maintains a studio in Greenwood Village and one in Millbrook, in her home state of New York. After receiving her bachelor's degree in 1966 from Smith College, where she studied art history and traditional painting, she earned a master's at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Subsequently, she undertook additional training at the National Academy, the New York Academy and the New York Studio School. She had her first New York exhibition in 1979, and her eleventh Manhattan solo is slated for November at James Graham & Sons.
In 1985, Duesberry moved out West, working in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. She has written that the move had a profound impact on her paintings. In the East, the landscape is veiled in mist much of the time, a "tyranny" from which she says she was freed by the "dry air and clear light" of the West.
The following year, she received a National Endowment for the Arts grant that allowed her to work with the late Richard Diebenkorn, a California artist known for a signature style that shifts between abstraction and representation. It was a good pairing, because Duesberry was an abstract painter in the 1960s but had since drifted back to the representational work she'd studied in college. It's hard to see Diebenkorn's influence in Duesberry's landscapes, but it's easy to see in her cityscapes.
Duesberry has won many awards over the years, and her work is in many public and private collections, notably that of the Denver Art Museum. She's also received several public art commissions, including her painting in the Red Rocks Visitor Center in Morrison and one that hangs in the Byron White Federal Courthouse downtown. Given this illustrious roster of successes, it's hardly surprising that the Robischon and Manhattan shows are just two of a half-dozen Duesberry solos being presented around the country this year.
For the Robischon exhibit, each of the front rooms has been assigned a specific locale or locales representing where the paintings were done. This geographic separation works well in the first half of the show, especially since the cityscapes really do need to be separated from the landscapes. However, it falls apart in the second half, where scenes of Italy bracket those of New Mexico.
Survey begins with a small group of Colorado landscapes displayed in the space right inside the front door. In these paintings, as with all of the others in this show, Duesberry does not literally illustrate the scenes, but instead organizes, flattens and distorts them, as an abstract painter would. They definitely have a relationship to Paul Cézanne's work of the turn of the last century, especially in the way that Duesberry conveys three-dimensional space by layering in overlapping planes. This Cézanne-esque quality also links her work to that of the early-twentieth-century painters of the Southwest, who were also responding to Cézanne (though more immediately, as the French master was still alive then).
Duesberry's palette, generated from actual colors found in Colorado, is gorgeous and recalls the work done by artists in our region fifty and sixty years ago. Like Duesberry, they derived their palettes from nature.
The first thing that viewers see when they enter the gallery is "Beaver Pond, Chatfield," an oil on linen from 1997. This captivating piece sets the tone for the entire show, and it's wonderful to see a nearby location given the major-painting treatment. Duesberry has compressed the scene, and the bottom foreground is established with a row of grasses expressed with a lineup of brush gestures. In the large middle, which takes up what looks like half the picture plane, is the pond, and the background has been emphatically defined by a wall-like rendition of the snow-covered mountains of the Front Range. Unlike many contemporary representational painters, Duesberry doesn't try to get photographic realism into her work; her pieces are more expressionistic and abstract.
The Robischon show dramatically shifts gears in the other front space, located to the left of the entry. In this section are pieces Duesberry did in 1998 and 1999, when, as a recipient of a World Trade Center grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, she was given a studio in the Twin Towers. The masterpiece of this group is "Clouds Over Midtown, Manhattan," a view of the skyscrapers, with the financial district unfolding into Midtown and the Empire State Building at the top center. Duesberry conveys the buildings and streets with dots and dashes in different colors. This view was once visible from the 91st floor of the North Tower of the WTC, and subtle shadows of the Twin Towers to the right provide a poignant passage in the painting.