The Color and Contour Of Scrupulous Landscapes

THERE is a tranquillity to Elizabeth Reid's landscape paintings that cannot be entirely explained by the fact that she has an unusual eye for reducing hedgerow and field, tree copse and distant hill, to simple essences.

The point of these pictures is not so much the lack of fuss or absence of distracting details: These are negative virtues. What counts positively is the sense of space that this almost minimal economy of shape and area makes apparent.

Ms. Reid admits to the strongest sensation of walking, in her imagination, into the landscape she is depicting. When that ``magic'' occurs, she knows a painting is working. She can go up and over the field, past the sheep, through the trees, and away into the distance.

If this realism does not emerge as she works, the painting remains a flat image. When the painting becomes what other people can see as a window, then it is what she intends. At her best, this painter proves that there is still fresh juice to be squeezed out of the traditional idea of a painting as a window.

All the same, looking at - or rather into - an Elizabeth Reid landscape, the viewer still knows it is a painting and not some photorealistic illusion designed to deceive the eye brilliantly and suspend disbelief.

This is so in spite of the fact that she is quite the opposite of an Expressionist, painty-gestural kind of painter, who emphasizes the thickness of oil paint. Impasto is not her way; her paint is smoothed out broadly, its surface imperturbable.

This artist finds nothing to interest or sustain her in abstract art. Yet her fields and trees and skies derive much of their memorable potency from their abstractness.

Her trees are stylized with scrupulous deliberation. Her green meadow in morning frost is a matter of true tone and apt light rather than a textural tangible bank of solid earth clothed in a covering of countless tussocks and blades and rootings of grass and weed.

Her winter hedge is branch and twig, certainly, but it is kept severely and serenely in place in her scheme by an undeviating edge that has far more to do with her immaculate sense of composition and order than with hedge cutters. The contour and color of her far hills describe their distance rather than their mass or solidity.

What Elizabeth Reid takes from the landscapes familiar to her and then evokes in picture form consists mainly of shadow and light truly remembered. ``Remembered'' is the right word because she neither draws nor paints outdoors, and only sometimes uses photographs as aides-memoires.

Coming from Scotland and living now in Wales, her vision has been instilled with rolling countryside, somewhere between wild and tame, moorland and farmland. She is a picturemaker and atmosphere-evoker rather than a topographical recorder.

Yet so vividly does she convey in her paintings the actual spots in the landscape she has previously observed and absorbed that people who know her pictures, when they are traveling in Scotland or Wales, frequently recognize the exact place she has painted.

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