Review: 2 artists and colleagues examine nature through personal lens

A celebrated African-American artist, California-based Richard Mayhew, and one of Atlanta’s own, Freddie Styles, take on the subject of nature in a two-person show at Buckhead’s September Gray Fine Art Gallery, “The Nature of Art.”

A contemporary of the abstract expressionists who made New York City in the 1950s the epicenter of contemporary art, Mayhew at 92 continues to display his heralded interest in the landscape as muse. Considered a master of the landscape form, his work on view in “The Nature of Art” illustrates a deep enchantment with both the illusory potential of paint and a personal, exploratory view of nature.

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Nature of a highly impressionistic and creatively mediated sort defines both Mayhew’s and Styles’ work.

Conjuring up a cross between the French impressionists and the more modern graphic sensibility of an Alex Katz, Mayhew’s landscapes in oil on canvas depict a vaporous, chimerical nature more imagined than actual. Mayhew’s color palette, of bright, sugary fuchsias, salmons, rosy pinks and purple, imagines the world in subjective terms, whether the artist is surveying shorelines or hillsides or a grove of trees.

To achieve the unique gauzy, dappled look of his canvases, Mayhew pours paint directly onto his canvas and works the hues into the surface to create an effect that often resembles intense watercolors. Those rich, jewel-like swaths of color bleed into each other, creating hazy margins between land and sky, water and hillside.

Rather than a distant, appraising view, Mayhew’s is an immersive one: His fields of earth, sky and water fill the picture frame, seducing with the totality of nature. Like a portrait of one’s lover painted with all of the soft-focus adoration you’d expect, Mayhew’s landscapes are beloved places, bathed in sentiment and enchantment. In the gorgeous “Atascadero,” a line of trees is captured at twilight, bathed in indigo, looking like sentient creatures. Rather than caught between the artist’s crosshairs, nature lives and breathes in Mayhew’s pulsating colors.

If Mayhew is a romantic in his enraptured approach to nature, then Styles may be a pragmatist, taking a slightly more analytical approach. Styles often embraces the textures, systems and forms of nature through his oft-repeated focus on rows of trees or the orderly arrangement of crops in the field. In works that incorporate paint, collage and mixed media on paper and canvas, Styles’ works often have the earthy texture of batik. His images summon up the micro details of the natural world, the striated bark, rough surfaces and marbled look of the sky.

Like nature viewed through a microscope, in “WR Stone Series #5” in acrylic on paper, Styles homes in on the mottled gray and white striations of stone seen in extreme detail. Styles’ work distills nature into a consistent, uniform phenomenon to be studied and measured from painting to painting.

Though their styles are distinct, Styles and Mayhew are united by their shared interest in an imagined, interpreted landscape that is as much about the process of painting as it is about capturing reality.


“The Nature of Art”

Through Dec. 31. Noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon-4 p.m. Saturdays. Free. September Gray Fine Art Gallery, 75 Bennett St., Atlanta, Suite O-2. 404-907-1923,

Bottom line: Two artists and colleagues show their unique but related approach to nature.

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