Kathleen Elsey Paintings / California WorkshopsNovember 30, 2008
By Elizabeth Schwyzer, Independent Arts Editor
High on the wall of Fielding’s formal boardroom hangs a small acrylic landscape painting of Sedona, Arizona. Outside the window, the South Coast fog is settling over the upper Eastside neighborhood and evening is closing in, but within the confines of the gilt frame, Kathleen Elsey’s vision of the Southwest bursts with color and light. “Cathedral Morning” captures the heat of its subject in exuberant, flat planes of color: hard, red rock rising steeply from a stand of yellow-green trees. The outcropping cuts a sharp line against a cerulean sky, and a band of turquoise water threads between the tree trunks, leading the eye back and forth between sky and ground.
“I tend to exaggerate when I paint,” admitted Elsey, who calls herself a fauvist. “I’m very into color.” When Elsey learned that the curator of Fielding’s art exhibits, was organizing a show around the concept "terra firma," she drew from her portfolio the “hot, dry, hard, brightly sunlit” landscapes, many of which were painted in Arizona and New Mexico. The largest of Elsey’s paintings on display in this exhibit is “Rio 3,” painted en plein air at the Rio Grande River near Taos, New Mexico. In Elsey's painting, a high horizon line allows the artist to devote the entire canvas to the rugged, vertiginous cliffs framing the river. This is her most abstract expressionist work in this show; slabs of peach, pink, and orange rush to meet a deep blue ribbon that cuts insistently through craggy rock.
Downstairs, Elsey’s paintings turn to more immediate surroundingslike a private, sun-drenched garden full of flower pots. But it’s her visions of dry, scorched earth and rock that best capture the essence of their subjects, as in “Hacienda Martinez,” where barren land slopes away from a stark adobe building, and a wooden ladder casts a sharp shadow against the baked earthen wall.
Elsey’s works included in this show span the course of eight years, and it’s interesting to chart the artist’s progression from deeper colors and busier lines to a brighter palette and a preference for simpler, broader planes. In Elsey's painting,“Pilar, Autumn Afternoon,” a few brushstrokes suffice to capture a cluster of white sagebrush growing on a hillside, brittle and parched by the sun.