Peaceful coexistence 

Peaceful coexistence
Oil and Acrylic Paintings on Canvas by Dan Tashlin & Clay Stephens
Through Friday, July 10, at Gallery at Avalon Island
39 S. Magnolia Ave.; 407-803-6670
Donations accepted;

The exhibit at downtown's Gallery at Avalon Island contrasts the superrealistic style of Dan Tashlin with the classic abstract expressionism of Clay Stephens for a show that somehow brings them together.

Tashlin's confidence as a contemporary realist painter allows him to traverse many subjects, from pets to people to places, and in all these he brings a sense of volume and an atmosphere reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, Thomas Eakins and James Whistler. His straightforward depictions of nautical life, such as "Tugboat Sunrise," are typical of his work, which sheds the artificiality of surrealism, impressionism and other "isms," concentrating on ordinary people and activities, and aiming for truth and accuracy.

"Andalusia" is a great example of Tashlin's style, in which one of those iconic medieval hill towns in southern Spain is rendered at sunset in soft colors. Tashlin does not give in to the temptation to add his own emotional content, preferring instead to let the subject speak for itself. In this he succeeds, and his long career has allowed him to develop a signature style, free from brushstrokes and poses, that's startlingly clear and unafraid to focus on the overlooked and forgotten.

Georgia-born Clay Stephens, on the other hand, is an unabashed expressionist, drawing on the postwar inspiration of artists such as Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock and others to communicate emotion to the viewer. Flipping Rothko on his head with color-field pieces such as "Caribe" makes the viewer smile; gone are the somber, brooding rectangles hovering empty and mysterious, replaced with bright blues and greens — but wait, is this a beach scene? The interplay between expressionism and impressionism leaves one reeling, especially when the medium — acrylic — is contrasted with the painstaking egg-yolk oils so meticulously mixed by Rothko.

In other paintings, Stephens can't quite empty the squares enough and places a trace piece of subject matter in the corner for the viewer to contemplate. Elsewhere, drip-painted earth tones and single-word titles such as "Death" and "Dawn" lend a certain depth, and if one sets aside the derivative nature of the art, these paintings have a serenity and balance.

Avalon has a case study going with these two very different veins of American art. A show like this in New York in 1955 would probably have inspired fistfights and become a police matter; today in Orlando, the styles peacefully coexist.

More by Rex Thomas


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