The Billowing Forces Of Light and Color

SCARF-LIKE shapes float in exquisitely pure colors on Virginia Maitland's canvases. These paintings are unabashedly beautiful; their forms are weightless, their colors rich and emotionally powerful. She has accomplished simplicity, which is no easy matter.

Though the paintings are abstract, her rigorous art-school training in drawing and perspective has been reinterpreted: She likes to play with the formal elements of depth perspective within the definitions of abstraction so that in many of her pieces, the veils of color billow slightly in the illusion of three-dimensional space.

Maitland credits the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia with teaching her everything she knows about painting and the history of art. But she broke from the traditions of strict realism when she was still in art school, finding her inspiration among the great first and second waves of Abstract Expressionists she saw in the galleries and museums of New York. She started to see color and light expressed in new ways. But it was really the move to Colorado that permanently changed her relationship to color and light.

``I moved from the city to a big open sky country, with all its brilliant light,'' says Maitland, a resident of Boulder. ``It changed my whole vision; it was startling. I began to really experience nature.

``My earlier paintings were much more about the city - reflective light and mechanical forms. I walked in city streets, so what I looked at were trucks, cars, machines. I was putting all those funny shapes in a landscape. In Colorado, I transformed all that into color and light.''

She paints from nature without copying it. When she takes a walk through the mountains, her inspiration might come from the way a shadow hits the side of a mountain. That form will then turn up in her painting. Hers are emphatically organic forms, but they are not reproductions of trees, brooks, or cows.

``The way the earth moves and shifts, the meandering of rivers, the flood plain, earthquakes ... : that's where I have come to, a new place in my work - the `cosmic' forces,'' she laughs.

These are expressive, energetic canvases. Maitland lays a large (54 by 60 in.) stretched canvas on the floor of her studio, pours paint, and tips the canvas. But she also uses the brush to refine her forms, and, lately, to carefully control splatter in some of the new canvases. Her forms are bold and yet so very fragile. What is most interesting in them is a great sense of causation - the forces of nature at work.

But she recognizes that the forces at work changing nature right now are not all positive, and in many of her paintings a sense of danger has crept in - like a warning. Artists living in surroundings like these in Colorado are fully conscious of threats to the environment. And so, a sharper edge, a more restive quality surfaces in her work in recent years, stemming from a willingness to see the beauty of nature, and the willingness to confront the peril to that beauty posed by human indiscretion.

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