The landscapes of Ed Marion and Carlton Manzano make a decent match. Marion, working from photographs, paints mostly urban scenes. Manzano works in plein air from his minivan, exploring the countryside. Both make modestly sized, loosely brushed work - Marion using mostly acrylic and Manzano using oils. Their two person show "Ithaca: The City in the Country" is up this month at the Upstairs Gallery. The work within attempts to reconcile painterly invention and invented color with the evocation of real spaces (the latter will likely be familiar to Ithacans). Marion's paintings, though uneven, is the more compelling.
Downtown Ithaca is a particularly strong example of Marion's style and observation. The painting, which is on masonite, is wide and panoramic. Its colors are whitish, "pastel," giving it a slightly dreamy quality. The view is from the middle of a wide road (slightly toward the right lane). The blue-gray street is in perspective and disappears about halfway up the panel where it is intersected by another, barely visible street running left-right. On either side of the road are parked cars in dull colors, and a pair of boxy, multistory buildings - pink and beige on the left and red on the right. Also visible on the right is a wide sidewalk, a mass of greenery, and a tall pole with two gray banners. In the back of the other intersecting street are more buildings. Most notable are a pink and white one with crennelations toward the left and a pair of pointed church towers closer to the middle. What makes the piece is a tilted white square toward the center of the panel - the back of a Fed-Ex truck at middle distance. It pulls the viewer into the scene.
Also notable are three of Marion's showing area coffee shops (the two Gimme! Coffees in downtown Ithaca plus the one in Trumansburg). In each, the view is from right outside the storefront, the street and sidewalk visible in the immediate foreground. Gimme! Tburg is the best of these. The warm colors - particularly a layer of orange underpainting that seeps through in places - suggest early twilight. The road is tilted upwards to the right. The architecture is richly detailed. A pair of wavelike benches flank the sides of the door. To the left (in the foreground) is a covered staircase leading who knows where. Near the middle of the panel hangs a red sign. The white lettering is carefully blurred, lest the piece become mere advertisement.
Gimme! Cayuga features similar colors, althought the suggestion is of broad daylight. A pair of figures pose under the striped awning, perhaps facing each other. The flat, frontal view is broken towards the right, the building corner. Gimme! State is the least interesting of the three. Its dull color and dull character are perhaps reflections of the boring brick-box architecture.
Several of Marion's paintings feature figures - strolling around the city or playing music. An interesting example of the latter is Guitar Progression. Made up of four small square canvases, it shows a guitarist, wearing a cowboy hat, a loose white shirt, and a pair of shades. He is engaged in a kind of comic strip action sequence. Like Marion's best figures, it substitutes gestural energy for realistic rendering.
Befiting their on-site execution, Manzano's oils are rougher and seemingly more casual than Marion's work. While this is a legitimate way of working, the results here seem uneven. Too often, the hairlike, impressionistic brushstrokes seem undirected, more concerned with filling space (one way or another) than with describing form and topography. At least two exceptions stand out.
Departure After the Harvest is one of these. It is a classic autumn scene: animated clouds against a pale blue sky, a flock of birds flying south, brown and orange trees, an abandoned field (beige), cornstalks, mud and dirt (with blue water, echoing the sky). In a manner somewhat reminscent of Van Gogh, the strokes of paint form a rhythmic zig-zag pattern, top to bottom. This compelling texture is enlivened by short, curly marks carved into the paint (perhaps with the handle of a brush). This technique is used elsewhere, where it seems more like an affectation.
Like Harvest, Wide Awake Farm and Summer Clouds feels unusually considered, with things going on in different layers of space. In the foreground, towards the left, is an off-kilter jumble of farm buildings, tinted purple. To their right is a pink tractor and a pair of tall, crooked telephone poles, their wires hanging loosely. In the background is a hilly green landscape bordered top and bottom by rows of trees. A distant road climbs up near the center. At the top is a strip of sky. This sort of picturesque rustic mess is typical of Manzano's work, the careful composition somewhat less so.