BY: PETER MALONE — JULY 15, 2021
Review of “Ron Milewicz: The Rhythm of Silence” at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, NY, June 26 – July 25, 2021.
The spaces between trees
With an aptly paradoxical title, “The Rhythm of Silence,” an exhibition of paintings by Ron Milewicz on now at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, demonstrates how visual art can nudge the viewer towards a place beyond the reach of words.1 Rhythm implies repetitive motion; silence implies stillness. Both are present in these small contemplative landscapes, which are exhibiting in the same district in which they were painted. Informed by art history, geographic location, and contemporary painting trends, the pictures remain highly individual. They are a product of the artist’s intuitive studio practice and his close engagement with the surrounding Hudson River region.
Milewicz’s panels rarely exceed twelve inches in height, but they vary considerably in length. Showing more than twenty pieces of this size in a cozy storefront gallery reinforces the intimate nature of the paintings, despite their physically expansive subject. The paintings’ modest but flexible dimensions lend the wider panels a fluidity that carries over to the more conventionally sized pictures. Three of the largest pieces, especially the nearly four-foot-long Summer Morning (2021) and the show’s only drawing, Woods, Meadow, Pond (2021), establish a sense of flow that informs one’s reading of the remaining work.
The Hudson River Valley, the source of the artist’s forest motif and the location of the gallery itself, is famously where Thomas Cole tramped two centuries ago. But to dwell on specific historical connections is to risk missing what gives American landscape painting its durability, namely the unique sensibility of each painter. Though he treats a subject viewers could be forgiven for assuming was exhausted in the intuitive landscapes of artists such as Ralph Blakelock, George Inness, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, Milewicz takes an approach that is very much his own. The paintings also reflect the region’s recent history. After many of the Hudson Valley’s hauntingly romantic forests were stripped in the colonial era, sections were partially replanted under the influence of an agricultural, or one might say a garden, aesthetic: less dense, with more distance between trees. Thus, the airy woodland topography that serves as Milewicz’s inspiration.
In conversation with the artist at the gallery, I learned that he begins with plein air drawing sessions, followed by a self-imposed absence from the forests to allow his memory to process the experience. Returning to the drawings, Milewicz continues transforming complex forest textures into flattened spatial reductions similar in outline to the rounded voids of oak leaves. The painted panels are then built up in thin layers of translucent hues. Ground shadows flow in alluvial streams as if they were plant beds in a park. In Down the Meadow (2019) he separates patches of groundcover—or are they shadows cast by the leafy canopy above?—into isles that resemble parkways on a footpath. It’s never clear which element is intended, light or space. But the patches’ odd perfection is the only unsettling aspect of an otherwise appealing artificiality. Elliptical sections of foliage in the trees seem to move between invisible layers, pulling in and out of focus like the elusive optics of a microscope. Tree branches break free of their source while maintaining their mimetic and compositional purpose. Trunks alternate strangely between structural silhouette and light shaft.
Artistic precursors rush to mind but fade as one grows accustomed to the way Milewicz maintains a meditative focus on what he feels is essential to each view. Pink Winter (2021) fulfills the expectation that landscape painters address seasonal changes. But any connection to Monet, for instance, subsides as one recognizes the folk-art candor of the drawing. Other historical connections fare better. In conversation with the artist, I learned of his admiration for Chinese landscape scrolls. Unlike the fixed and often curved perspective to which Rackstraw Downes pins his wider landscape compositions, the dreamy disengagement Milewicz casts across his woodland scenes leaves viewers free to set their own pace, establishing their own rhythm from left to right, or the reverse, if they are so inclined. Either way, the trees remain plumb, giving a reliable steadiness to the compositions, despite considerable liberties taken within.
And it is these liberties that provide for a surprising range of expression. Black Moon (2021) and Pink Moon (2019) have similar titles, and each includes an expressively tinted orb. But while the former reads as an early evening view of a gently sloping winter scene, eclipsed moon notwithstanding, the latter is a surrealist vision in blue of a night sky sprayed with calligraphic light bursts resembling an illuminated opera set. All this comes from a careful and persistent study of the common woodlands found in Upstate New York.