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Outward and inward

Samuel Denoncour's "This Is Land" at GRIN; Toby Barnes's "Altared States" at Yellow Peril
By GREG COOK  |  August 6, 2014

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MAJESTIC Denoncour's 'All Hail the Orange Tree Before the Great Valley.'

A couple years or so back, Samuel Denoncour spent a year traveling alone across these United States. He made notes and drawings in his sketchbook along the way, recording fleeing impressions that served as inspiration for the paintings in his show, “This Land Is,” at GRIN (60 Valley St, Providence, through August 16).

He was particularly taken by the West — Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California. His canvases depict a bluff reflected in a pond, men and women wading in rivers and lakes, the profile of a butte in a Utah desert, a VW microbus kicking up dust as it speeds along a mountain road under a full moon, a man laying under a giant boulder precariously balanced on a smaller rock.

In one picture, a woman in a red dress stands between an unruly pile of logs and an old barn. The building is missing boards as well as panes from its window. She holds a rifle to her shoulder and aims off to the right, toward who knows what. He calls it Shooting Ghosts. Which could be a title for the show. It’s about memories.

Denoncour, who resides in Amesbury, Massachusetts, includes a cartoonish, native-ish wood totem. From the figure’s open mouth, you can hear recordings of people and places he visited, snatches of talk and church organs and wind. It sits awkwardly among the paintings, its tone loud and garish.

Denoncour’s paintings generally have a laidback, sketchy quality, like a looser version of the Maine landscapes and interiors Fairfield Porter used to paint. The canvas All Hail the Orange Tree Before the Great Valley depicts a mountain with forest climbing around its flanks but unable to colonize the bald, rocky top. The trees and mountainsides are all warm sunset or rusty autumn oranges and browns.

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FLEETING IMPRESSIONS Denoncour's 'Caller.'

This landscape can bring to mind Georgia O’Keeffe’s Western mountains in its hues and shapes and simplifying to get at the heart of something. O’Keeffe’s landscapes were often more solid, sculptural forms that she streamlined into a kind of Southwestern pueblo art deco. She was fascinated by the sensual folds of flowers and mountains and flesh.

Denoncour’s landscapes are more about paint and the offhand touch of his brushstrokes. It’s a casualness that suggests
him remembering ephemeral moments from drifting across the country. That wistful mood is catching when, say, he reproduces the cozy shady-sunny light under a bridge over a calm river. What sticks with you is the feeling of pleasantly unhurried meandering.

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