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5.16.04 SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE

REFLECTIONS OF A PAINTER OF EARTH AND SKY

By Kevin Costello Correspondent


SARASOTA -- Balancing a laconic, classical approach to the landscape with the florid, chromatic traditions of mid-20th century abstraction, Jeffery Cornwell's images are more ordered than nature, but, at the same time, they express a love of nature's constantly changing appearance.

Cornwell's acrylic-on-canvas landscapes at Elizabeth Rice Fine Art in Sarasota persuade the spectator that the emotional and visual restraint of his paintings is a genuine response to nature and, consequently, is one that the viewer can enter and accept.

The scale and degree of detail in the landforms, relative to the cloud patterns of his paintings, make clear Cornwell's love of the dramatic naturalism of 19th-century Romanticism reformulated for our time. His is a reductivist mood derived from color field abstraction and minimalism, two mid- to late-20th-century abstract styles that place emphasis on the poetics of pure color and the beauty of pure form.

Details exist in Cornwell's painting that are discreet metaphors. However, it is the color and formal relationship of sky to land that is unique to his vision. At heart, he is a 19th-century pantheist in the spirit of Bonington and Constable, an elegiac spirit expressing himself through associations of the sky as a vehicle of self-reflection.

For example, a painting of a pink, violet and turquoise sunset has only a church steeple intruding into the clouds. In another painting, dark gray clouds threaten a distant beach shoreline at low tide. Across the expanse of wet sand a solitary figure walks in the middle distance.

Cornwell's reductivist approach to landscape enhances the formal clarity of his compositions. Each section of the painting is defined by its own particular color(s), which gives it a clear, architectonic order that supports the image from beneath the paint.

It's an order that contrasts the physical and chromatic weight created by setting the free-flowing cloud formations against the thin sliver of land masses (or other land- based details) at the base of the painting.

The extremes of proportional scale between the expanse of sky and the ribbon of land reverses the natural order of things as experienced in nature: Here the sky is inviting and personal, and the land is distant and almost approachable.

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