Dusk- that time of day when dark and light blend together into a hybrid of shades, shapes and emotions - can be unsettling. It can also be a time of relaxation and reflection.
Both emotions are apt when Linden Frederick creates dusk with his paints. The ultimate effect of his nightscapes of quintessential American towns and structures is to capture not so much a place as a feeling.
What those feelings turn out to be is up to each viewer who takes in Frederick's work, now on display at Gerald Peters Gallery. You may find yourself longing for a time past when things were simpler (or so it seemed), or for that corner barbershop where Ed would happily chat away with you while he clipped, or for a place to stop for the night on your way from somewhere to nowhere, or nowhere to somewhere.
"Two people can come up to the same piece, and one will say the place in the painting is hopeful; the other will say it's menacing," Frederick said by phone from his studio in Belfast, Maine. "A good word is 'trigger.' What does this image trigger in the viewer?
"I think that's what all good art is about - flicking some switches."
Your switches will be flicked. On a 40-inch-square canvas Frederick tells you the history of a place and the people in that place. Actually you'll have to write the history, but he'll give you enough information to fill in the blanks.
Three Houses, for instance, is a trio of houses separated from the rest of the community by a huge body of water. It is dusk; the sky is indigo. The lights of the city on the other side of the bay suggest a lively, happy atmosphere. The three quarantined structures may be entirely content to be so far away from all the noise and bustle. On the other hand, perhaps they feel left out. It all depends on you.
Night After captures a small one-story house surrounded by snow and decorated with Christmas lights. A snowman leans, half-melted, in the front yard. The painting nabs that feeling of loneliness that can overtake a place when the celebration ends. It also offers comfort in the offering of a safe, warm place to be with family for the holidays.
Fairground spotlights an empty fairway with quiet, uninhabited buildings caught in dusk's grasp. The public telephone illuminated by a light looks as if it may ring at any minute.
Frederick's canon includes paintings of isolated barns, nearly deserted streets, dying minimalls and small-town barbershops, all devoid of human figures but full of life. Their stories are coming to an end for the night. They will begin new sagas tomorrow, when the sun returns.
Frederick, who grew up in New England, has been working as an artist since his late teens. He has an impressive educational background - Ontario College of Art in Toronto and Academia de Belle Arte in Florence - but said he only took from this training what he wanted to learn. And he's not saying what that was.
He's been doing nightscapes, as he calls them, for 15 years. Why?
"You know how if you confront a fear, maybe it will go away?" he rhetorically asked. "I think maybe it has something to do with a feeling of anticipation that comes with this time of night - dusk. It's when I need food, shelter, warmth and companionship. You're looking for security of some kind, and I think that's what people feel when they look at my paintings."
While the places in his paintings do exist, he alters them slightly by playing with the light to give them a magical, or mysterious, feeling. First he does considerable foundation building, repeatedly visiting a site and taking photographs at different times of the day.
He doesn't put people into the works because he figures the viewer will do that.
"When there's a figure in a painting, the painting becomes about the person. That's unavoidable," he explained. "If you don't put people in it, if you just suggest them, as in Ed's, the viewer becomes curious about looking further.
"Even though the person is not in the painting, I'm suggesting something. I'm asking the viewer to complete the picture. Let them wonder who Ed is. Is he a single guy? He lives upstairs, obviously. Is he a gregarious person, one who talks to all the customers and then lives a lonely life upstairs? What does he do at night?"
If you're the type who likes to look into a painting, or a room, or down a street and see what's what right away, Frederick's art may not be for you. But if you like to stroll the streets at night and look up at a well-lit window and wonder what's going on in there, his American Nights exhibit will be right up your alley.
If "unsettling peace" best describes Linden Frederick's work, Gerald Peters Gallery chose well in showing that artist 's work alongside paintings by Walter Hatke. Hatke's oil-on-linen landscapes and interiors may best be characterized as "disquieting reassurances."
On the surface, his bright New England landscapes evoke a sense of history; a sense of great things having been accomplished on rustic sites, like a simple farmhouse on a hill. The structures in his paintings are bright and cheery and may remind you of those refurbished tourist towns where actors dress up as colonials and re-create famous events.
On the other hand, there's something about Hatke's use of shadow and lines and geometric forms that suggests a foreboding presence, or a treaty signing gone wrong, or a near-perfect house flawed by the presence of a not-too-friendly ghost.
"I like disquiet in all things," Hatke said by phone from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., where he teaches art. "We don't ever know everything. Even as literally as one might like to paint, or wish to describe something in words, there's always more out there that can't be explained.
"As a realist painter, I've become increasingly aware of what's under the surface. We never get all the answers. I like that sense of questioning - or disquiet - to be left to the viewer."
Hatke said his desire to paint is a spiritual quest in its own way. He's still looking for a concrete end to that quest, but he's in no hurry. He's been painting since his college years, when he came across a formula for living by renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung: "Become what you've always been." Hatke realized he was an artist, so he decided to become one.
In his exhibit Upstate Diary, the settings range from a panoramic view of a distant town enveloped in sunset (Knolls) to his rendition of a robe worn by a founder of the Baha'i faith (Garment of the Gate) to a pristine farmhouse overlooking a sunny valley (Neilson Farm). The last one boasts a view one would kill for, and maybe somebody did, given the prominent display of an axe stuck in a stump by the house.
What may be disconcerting about Hatke's work are the shadows cast by trees, uneasily moving along the land like pirates on the prowl, as in Canterbury or Deerfield Reds. Or maybe the rifle that hints at violence in Salve Elizabeth, or the reflection of the disapproving- looking fellow in the bedroom in Teachers.
In short, there always seems to be something or someone around the next corner of the room or the building in Hatke's pieces, and maybe that unknown entity represents the past leading to an uncertain future.
You will be compelled to follow.
Linden Frederick & Walter Hatke, paintings Opening reception 5-7 p.m. today, Oct. 4, exhibit through Nov. 2
Gerald Peters Gallery, 1011 Paseo de Peralta, 954-5700
©Copyright 2002, The Santa Fe New Mexican