Bay artist paints 'the heart of the matter'

John W. Carlson's oil-on-canvas painting, "Trees."

John W. Carlson is a local paint-artist who recently has had major exhibits at the Chicago Art Matrix Gallery (in the Zhou Brothers Complex) and at Ashland University's Coburn Gallery. His work is on display at the Erie Art Museum, and also may be seen at BAYarts in Bay Village.

Carlson's studio, at the back of his home on Lake Road in Bay Village, is a place of grand activity and wonderment. We might say this of a Carlson painting – it is a harsh beauty, dark, wiry, strong, sometimes stark, occasionally leaning away from the viewer, a cacophony of sound, with droplets of paint scattered about, with hidden images, and concentrations of black and gray tension.

But look closely and you might see faint smears of color leaving dim impressions, understated beauty, like the soft rose tinge on a Degas dancer's calf, easily missed by a casual observer. And in some paintings, Carlson breaks his main patterns with large blocks of color empty of images, enamel-like, with patches of missing paint, chipped, fuzzy stains that seem wanting repair. Just like life!

These techniques might be Carlson's way of isolating his primary image within a painting, perhaps a mother's hand resting on a child's lap, a man's head bent down in puzzlement at something on the ground, a bird trying to decide on flying up or down.

Another technique along the same lines is Carlson's cutting off of a head, a foot, a shoulder at frame's end, placing them beyond the edge of the painting and out of thought. But not always out of thought, for sometimes it is the missing part that is important to his total concept.

A contradiction? No, not at all, for Carlson is making the viewer think of what's not there and what the missing object might have to do with the rest of his painting. The uses of "slant" and "gesture" are abundant in a Carlson painting. By what magic can the angle of a neck, a hand, a shoulder, a leg, or a half-closed eye give emotion and passion to a view otherwise passive and uncommitted?

This is the genius of Carlson's work. He seems to turn existence inside-out, not in its physicality, but in its essence. His subtext is "the heart of the matter." John W. Carlson is a strong example of art as communication. And he speaks in several languages.

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Volume 1, Issue 8, Posted 5:56 PM, 11.25.2009