Landscapes that go beyond their subject
New York — It's not true that anyone can paint landscapes - although it's easy enough to copy nature's appearance, or to fashion a painting in the style of Constable or Monet. Seeing something fresh in nature, or even really seeing such ordinary things as trees, hills, houses, and sky in painterly terms, is another matter altogether. And painting landscapes that embody and communicate significant perceptions or intimations of deeper human realities is rarer still.
For every Turner, Friedrich, Cezanne, Marin, or Burchfield there are hundreds of landscape painters who merely record or idiosyncratically elaborate upon the facts and the face of nature - who think they have done well if they merely present us with a rendering or a stylized transcription of what lay before them.
Such painters miss the point of landscape painting altogether. They fail to understand that the forms and appearances of nature are merely the raw material of art, that they must be perceived, assimilated, grappled with, possibly even restructured according to a larger goal or plan before they can legitimately be called art.
The United States is fortunate in having several younger and slightly more experienced painters who understand and have come to grips with the larger dimensions of landscape painting. A few, like Neil Welliver and William Beckman, have established substantial reputations, but most are still at the beginning stages of their careers. Among the latter are a good half-dozen or so still in their 20s. High among this group is Charles Moser.
Moser's paintings, at first glance, seem quite ordinary. They are strictly representational, depict everyday places and things in a straightforward, crisp style and exude an aura of modest mastery. Most are landscapes devoid of human habitation and, most particularly, of any human presence. Only as one studies them does one become aware of how sensitively executed they are and of how subtly they give form to the artist's very private feelings and intimations about the larger dimensions and significances of life.
All this is accomplished without any overt hints from the artist. The viewer simply becomes aware that the handsome painting in front of him is not merely a depiction of a place, that it provokes subtle feelings and intuitions, even certain presentiments, not normally felt in front of actual or most painted landscapes.
This special quality was present in Moser's earlier paintings and permeates his recent work currently on view at David Findlay Jr. Contemporary here. It is considerably more subtle now, however, and takes second place to evidence that Moser is determined to consolidate and to simplify his art without lessening its deeper implications or significances.
This insistence upon consolidation without loss of depth has resulted in smaller, less dramatically iconic and more overtly physical canvases. His technique is looser and his formal approach is broader. It has also resulted in an exhibition that, while not as eye-catching as his previous shows, indicates Moser has taken a significant step forward toward finding the means necessary for him to produce major art.
He still has a considerable distance to go - considering the level of art of which he is capable. Remarkable as the works in this exhibition are, they only hint at what he still must do to achieve the full creative synthesis he insists upon. ''Maybrook,'' while exquisite in many ways, lacks the vigor and formal strength of his ''Newbury.'' But then the latter, in turn, lacks the haunting and subtle magical atmosphere and the delicate touch that is so crucial to the identity of ''Maybrook.''
The battle for greater liveliness, openness, sensitivity, and depth, for an imagery that will encompass all Moser wants to say more simply, is obviously joined. One can only wish this artist well. It is always a pleasure to see work that indicates an artist is willing to submerge evidence of his talent, skill, and creative struggle in favor of greater ''simplicity'' and directness.
Moser is only one of several younger artists working in almost every style and medium whose pursuit of art is not dictated by an increasing dependency on novelty or idiosyncracy, and whose understanding of and respect for art totally unlike their own will, it is hoped, spell an end to the art world's waning but still too persistent tendency to label artists as ''good guys'' and ''bad guys'' on the basis of style rather than quality.
At David Findlay Jr. Contemporary, 41 East 57th Street, through Feb. 25. Leonardo drawings
Original drawings by Leonardo da Vinci are among the most prized of all works of art. They are also among the most fragile and easiest to damage - either by rough handling or by overexposure to light.
It is all the more gratifying, therefore, that Queen Elizabeth II agreed to send a group of 50 Leonardo drawings from Britain to the United States. They come from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, and are currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum here.
All are anatomical studies, many with accompanying notes in Leonardo's handwriting, and all are quite small and delicate in execution.
These drawings are altogether remarkable, though not so much perhaps as great works of art - most are too precisely analytical and clinical, too exclusively concerned with the mechanics and operations of the human body to be that. But remarkable certainly as physical evidence of the intellectual and scientific curiosity of one of mankind's greatest and most wide-ranging geniuses of all time.
Also on display in an adjoining gallery is an exhibition of 60 woodcuts and engravings demonstrating the state of anatomical illustration during the 16th century. Both it and the exhibition of Leonardo drawings will remain on view at the Metropolitan Museum through April 15.