Alexandre Gallery

Lois Dodd: Windows and Doorways

Lois Dodd: Windows and Doorways

view through elliot's shack, looking south by lois dodd

Lois Dodd

View through Elliot's Shack, Looking South, 1971

front door cushing by lois dodd

Lois Dodd

Front Door Cushing, 1982

night window - red by lois dodd

Lois Dodd

Night Window - Red, 1972

night sky loft by lois dodd

Lois Dodd

Night Sky Loft, 1973

Thursday, January 23, 2003Saturday, March 1, 2003

A selection of paintings from the past 3 decades surveying a recurring theme in the artist's work. This show marks the gallery's first Dodd exhibition and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with text by John Yau.

Excerpt from Essay by John Yau:

One could pick almost any painting of a doorway or window that Dodd did between 1971 and 1997, a stretch of more than twenty-five years, and quickly discern the following; all of them establish a palpable relationship between subject matter and picture plane, In Blue Sky Window (1979), which is one of Dodd’s more austere paintings, the proportions of the bare, curtainless window perfectly echo the painting’s dimensions, as well as fits snugly inside its vertical format. This relationship is further underscored by the four window panes, each of which transforms the bluish-white sky into an abstract painting. Clearly, Dodd isn’t content with making a witty comment on abstraction, how it can be embraced by representation. The painting has far more emotional weight to it than such witty asides would allow. For one thing, the nearness of the window to the picture plane makes one feel as if one has to decide whether or not to look out the window, to see what of course cannot be seen. In addition, all the different elements of the painting, no matter how abstract they are, are understood as being either actual things or facts.

Once the viewer is viscerally engaged, and this is something that is operative in all of Dodd’s large paintings and doorways, certain details and questions quickly surface in one’s consciousness. Why are there no curtains, no trace of human presence? Is it austerity or bleakness that surrounds us? And while the painting focuses all our attention on this membrane (window), we do feel surrounded. By this I mean, we don’t feel as we if are looking out a window, but that we are standing in a room which hasn’t quite fully revealed itself. And we know that it never will, which isn’t exactly comforting.

An atmosphere of intense solitude prevails throughout every inch of Blue Sky Window. But it is not another person’s solitude we are witnessing, it is our own. This is what we find so disquieting about the painting. It is easier to witness another person’s solitude, than to face the inevitability of our own. This, I think, is the initial level of understanding that is central to Dodd’s paintings; they open onto a fictive space where one ends up contemplating a state of solitude that is a central part of being human. Instead of asking us to consider someone else’s life, the artist asks us in a quiet, matter-of-fact way to consider our own. The question is presented with an immense amount of tact and etiquette. The paint is not thick, the surfaces are not creamy. Quiet but forceful, the reticent brushwork matches the question.

I think critics may have been put off by Dodd’s unerring ability to ask deep questions. However, I also believe that there is even more formal and emotional complexity to these paintings than what I have just described. In fact, I believe the formal and emotional not only cannot be separated in Dodd’s best paintings, but it is what makes these paintings resistant to assimilation. It is not that they are hard to look at, because they aren’t. Rather, once we look at them, what we find difficult to do is to accept all that they imply. In Night Sky Loft (1973), which is one of the artist’s masterpieces and certainly belongs in a museum, Dodd uses an oval mirror’s reflection to evoke what is directly behind the viewer. In the mirror, one sees two empty chairs facing each other, an empty table between them. This is not all the reflection shows us. Above the chair closest to us, and it is turned away, there is a clean white towel hanging neatly from a rack. The towel is where one’s head might be if someone was sitting in the chair. The reflection flattens everything out, it defines a space we cannot enter.

Dodd both enlivens the mirror’s flattened space, as well as comments on it, by using warm yellow and yellowish-orange to define much of the mirror and a narrow band extending directly above it. These warm colors are held in place by the gray-pale green walls, gray shadows, gray mirror frame, and largely black shadows and forms seen through the window that extends in from the painting’s top and left side. We can look through the window, into the night, but we cannot enter the mirror, its warm glow. This tension suggests that we are always leaving one world behind, as we make our way toward another.

Except for the viewer, the solitary individual, the room feels empty, though not as bereft as the one we imagine is behind us in Blue Sky Window. This feeling of being bodiless, of being a ghost, is also a central feature of View through Eliot’s Shack, Looking South (1971), another masterful painting. The tight placement of the window, its four dark panes, within the painting’s format, as well as the bright window on the other side of the building’s dark interior, pull us toward the picture plane. By pulling us forward, making us aware of our bodies, Dodd reminds us that we are always in motion, and that we are also bounded. We cannot go wherever we want to go, that there are limits.

Formally, the scale of View through Eliot’s Shack, Looking South, is related to our body. This scale relationship is subtly reinforced by the composition, which consists of vertical rectangles within vertical rectangles, with the smallest one being a view through the window on the other side of the shack, its dark interior. We are looking through to a bright world we cannot enter, and the passage to that place is both dark and blocked. The temptation to read this painting as a religious or spiritual allegory is strong, and yet there is nothing in the painting to suggest that this is the artist’s intention. In fact the painting is about as down to earth as you can get.

By transforming the viewer into both a ghostly presence and a solitary consciousness, Dodd proves to be in these paintings at least the true heir of the great American painter, Edward Hopper. She is Hopper’s heir because she enlarges and redefines his unsparing insight into the truth of commonplace scenes. His figures are disconnected, each sunk into his or her bottomless well of loneliness. His empty spaces reflect the emotional emptiness of his figures. Looking at them sitting by the window or standing in the lobby of a movie theater, we see ourselves. Like them, we are voyeurs isolated from the world and those around us.

In Dodd’s paintings, we become the very figures Hopper depicted. We are no longer looking at them, but at ourselves. We are standing outside a house at night. Is it ours or someone else’s? We are looking at the window of a deserted house, its worn shutters and drawn shade. We will never know who lived there or what happened to them. Dodd is never nostalgic about this. She doesn’t bemoan something that is an inherent fact, our mortality. She knows the doors and windows will continue their existence after she stops looking. They have no need for her or for us. That’s what is so powerful about her paintings; they show us that the room remains long after we have left it forever. And yet, there is nothing plaintive about these paintings. Heartbreaking in their solidity and directness, they possess a moral dignity that is both bracing and refreshing.