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Gregory Gillespie at Forum
 
     
 
Manger Scene
1999
 
Installation view
 
Widely regarded as an important American visionary, Gregory Gillespie has produced some of the most wildly imaginative paintings of his career in the past few years. While a comprehensive Gillespie retrospective tours the U.S. (it opens Jan. 9 at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio), the 63-year-old, New Jersey native displays some of his recent mind-bending creations in this New York show.

Confident in his technical abilities, this virtuoso painter is not afraid to make radical shifts in style and materials. The works on view here range from intimist oils of exotic landscapes and figures to nearly abstract wall reliefs and a sculptural work made of a tree stump painted blue. Most of the pieces are rather small in scale, but they pack a disproportional wallop. A certain exoticism pervades the work, which is inspired by many areas of art history, both Western and non-Western, ancient and contemporary.

Among the outstanding pieces is The Lake, a dark but luminous image of a lakeside cave. Gillespie unleashes a furious yet precise sequence of brushstrokes to suggest a watery tomb. Manger Scene is another haunting painting in which four nude figures occupy the portico of a simple-looking building. A figure in the foreground appears to be washing herself in a large tub. She and another figure standing at a large sink may be residents of a bordello. However, a large Balinese Barong mask, used in a ritualistic dance, propped up near a doorway, indicates a sacred place.

Gregory Gillespie, "New Works," Dec. 2-Dec. 31, 1999, at Forum, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10151.

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