When Donald Elder, who opens an exhibit of new works at Elena Zang Gallery in Shady Saturday, October 28 (with an artist’s reception 2 p.m.-5 p.m.) for a three week run through November 19, moved into a new studio just steps from his garden-surrounded home several years ago, the painter seemed both enthused and exhausted. The new place was big, bright, cleaner and emptier than where he’d been creating his much-sought-after expressionistic landscapes for years. The process of moving had put him in touch with decades of his own work, stretching back to more abstract beginnings, then the shift to landscapes that occurred when he moved Upstate.
At first the new works coming out of Elder’s home studio seemed more studio-playful than what had come before, when he often spoke about how “being a part of it you have to paint it.” They riffed on what he’s best known for, those moody landscapes, with some newer explosions on old still life motifs. Next, his garden started dominating large works; he began creating diptychs and triptychs. And the Virginia-born and bred gentleman seemed to be showing up more regularly at others’ arts events, or showing again in group settings, including the Woodstock School of Art’s growing exploration of monoprints, a freeing exercise for any artist in need of a jolt of uncontrollable youth.
The new works feel more intimate and innovative than anything we’ve seen of Elder’s, which says a lot given the undeniable warmth and depth of spirit he’s always brought to his work. It’s as if that short walk from house to studio has allowed him a shorter distance between observation and emotion, between inspiration and accomplishment. Some pieces feel akin to what Joan Snyder’s been playing with in recent years, thick with paint and the attempt to recreate as well as create. Some explode into new directions that feel familiar but also entirely fresh. There are gardens, glimpses of landscape, still lives with flowers. But also vases, by themselves; think of all implied in the idea of a vessel, or the way senses spark and sputter in different settings, different seasons, and one gets a notion what’s at play in Donald Elder’s new works.
Back when the painter first made that move, he spoke about seeking ways to loosen himself up, to make his work less thought-out, intentional. The new paintings Donald Elder is showing now at Elena Zang demonstrate a great artist can be at self-renewal when they don’t put their mind to it, but allow their feelings a shorter space to romp and find meaning within.
An artist’s reception for Donald Elder will take place 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, October 28 at Elena Zang Gallery, 3671 Route 212 in Shady. The exhibition will remain on view through November 19. For further information call 679-5432 or visit www.elenazang.com.