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Distant Places/Northern Lives

Maine--an iconic picture postcard that leaves so much unsaid. Such rugged good looks are easily captured, but the moodiness of Maine, in its spirit, community, ecology, and history is elusive and can't really be framed. Still vignettes leave unanswered questions as to how time and people shape a place. Artists Debra Yoo and Catherine Lo both know that although full of beauty, scenes of life in Maine are enigmatic and complex facets in a larger, ever changing setting. Both paint exquisitely- the best sort of representational painting perfectly fitted to the emotional tide of a place like Maine. A contemporary patchwork of a tradition-steeped subject, Distant Places/Northern Lives is visual joy and recognition, a never patronizing exhibition that ebbs and flows into a complicated mosaic of a place. Each artist revels in exploring small windows into a space or moment. Neither try to make a gestalt out of their shimmering cacophony of imagery, allowing the viewer to arrive upon their own subjective closure.

Diving into an inherited treasure trove of photos taken by her stepfather, Catherine Lo remembers a place and time she never knew. Bestowing a nostalgia on the fragmented record of someone else's life is not a misguided glorification of the past in Lo's hands but more a comparison of life now and then, and an investigation of the sentimental decisions of someone else. The breadth of experience he chose to record struck Lo, from birds to snowmobiles, ice-fishing to cribbage games, and served as a basis for this series of diverse paintings. "I was intrigued by the power of these images to outlive both the fish and the fishermen, retaining their relevance and beauty for decades. And I was also struck by the idea that, in a very simple way, they symbolize a richness of shared memory for many people growing up in the small towns of Maine during the sixties and seventies. You ate the fish you caught, or your sister did, or your neighbor did. Blood and slaughter weren’t as far from the dining table as they are now; red and black plaid had not yet become a fashion statement." Lo's paintings are partly a homage to one particular man, but also a gift to the collective Maine consciousness. The myriad of people that make up the state in 2010 are a part of a continuum that includes many similar stories and images in it's recent past, images that reawaken, remind, and recall.

Debra Yoo approaches painting and place with wide-eyes and no agenda. She says, "whether I look at water, rocks, trees, buildings in the landscape, flowers – it all appears chaotic and mysterious to me at first, an overload of information. Then I set myself to the task of squeezing out an oily colored substance and moving it around on a rectangular surface in the way my hand seems to like moving it around, and slowly finding the kinds of compositional relationships that I always seem drawn towards. When the end result not only has a life and a completeness of its own, but also something essential of what I see in front of me - the light and the shapes of Maine – the painting is done." With a loyalty to the particular glow and scent of a place, Yoo's paintings are sensually striking and evocative. The landscapes are familiar and often include houses and phone lines. They don't erase human life or try to restore nature but they do celebrate the natural environment. The musk of the deep woods is present in the paint, the startling brightness of flowers, and the heaviness of an overcast day.

Ultimately painting is a sweet reminder of failure, not a failure of the paint itself, but failure of art to perfectly and completely capture or summarize. Instead it works best when it remains open-ended with multiple attempts and perspectives, eager to reveal a tumult of senses and emotions, that don't require a conclusion. Lo and Yoo value remembrance rather than resolution: remembrance with tenderness, imperfection, and a lack of ego.

-Celeste Parke

for more information on each artist visit
www.catherineslo.com and www.debrayoo.com

Distant Places/Northern Lives will be on view April 2 - May 1, 2010. An opening reception will be held on First Friday, April 2nd from 5- 8 pm.

Whitney Art works is open Wednesday - Saturday from noon - 6 pm, or by appointment.


Debra Yoo, <i>Flat Rock, Burnt Head</i>, 2007, 14
Debra Yoo, Flat Rock, Burnt Head, 2007, 14" x 18", oil on prepared paper mounted on panel

Debra Yoo, <i>Houses and hydrangea, Portland</i>, 2009, 14
Debra Yoo, Houses and hydrangea, Portland, 2009, 14" x 18", oil on prepared paper mounted on panel

Debra Yoo, <i>Mackworth</i>, 2008, 14
Debra Yoo, Mackworth, 2008, 14" x 18", oil on prepared paper mounted on panel

Debra Yoo, <i>Poppies and peonies</i>, 2009, 14
Debra Yoo, Poppies and peonies, 2009, 14" x 18", oil on prepared paper mounted on panel

Debra Yoo, <i>Summer day, Freeport</i>, 2009, 14
Debra Yoo, Summer day, Freeport, 2009, 14" x 18", oil on prepared paper mounted on panel

Catherine Lo
Catherine Lo

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