by Eileen Watkins
Friday, October 14, 1998
The work of Nancy Depew offers a prime example of how figurative art
is new again these days.
On the surface, everything about the Plainfield artist's approach is
traditional. She uses many layers of pigment and glazes to build up a
rich surface, in a method reminiscent of the Dutch masters or the Hudson
River School. For subject matter, she favors nude figures and forest
Yet it would be hard to mistake any of her paintings or drawings for
older works, because her presentation is subtly modern. There is an undercurrent
of trauma rather than romanticism in her compositions.
Depew exhibits a dozen works at the Aurora Gallery, Closter. Five are
oils, five are drawings and two are gouache paintings; none have titles.
Each of Depew's dark, detailed forest scenes spotlights a central, broken
tree in a theatrical way. In two of them, the tree has recently fallen
to create a clearing in the woods; in another, half of the trunk remains
standing as a hollow, jagged monolith. They serve as mute reminders of
a lightning strike or other climactic event probably never witnessed
by any human eye.
Depew's nude studies give flesh to this concept of secret loss and pain.
Typically, a man or woman crouches near the blank wall of a dim, seemingly
empty room. The character's face is averted, and he clutches himself
as if in agony - almost certainly not a physical, but an emotional pain.
In the oils, the realism is extreme. The flesh is translucent, revealing
blue veins in spots, and while there is a slight gloss to the skin it
remains warm and sensuous. The contortions of the limbs create a visual
drama. The viewer fells both admiration for the beauty of the painting,
and empathy for the suffering fellow being.
Depew executes one study of a crouching woman in both oil and charcoal.
The oil presents the figure as more "spotlighted" and sculptural,
while the drawing stresses the darkness of surrounding room.
There is one calmer, more traditional view of a blond woman seated on
a delicate chair, with the emphasis on her back muscles and curving spine.
Some of Depew's drawings also feature nudes in more placid and decorative
Her smaller gouache landscapes, still featuring fallen trees and crisp,
thorough detail, celebrate the summer sunlight and clean water of unspoiled
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