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Shades of Gray: Understated, landscape-referenced paintings stand out from the pack at Delurk Gallery

Shades of Gray: Understated, landscape-referenced paintings stand out from the pack at Delurk Gallery

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Delurk Gallery recorded 137 visitors during Winston-Salem’s first-Friday gallery hop on Jan. 4. The number almost surely would have been higher had in not been a rainy, seasonally chilly night, not especially conducive to pedestrian outings of any kind. That’s why I waited until the following afternoon to see what was new in the Downtown Arts District.

Not much, as it turned out, although the sky was clear and the weather far more pleasant than the night before. With the holiday shopping frenzy out of the way, January is traditionally a slow month for local art venues and other shops, and it shows in the scaled-back displays and installations at the downtown galleries I visited.

Delurk usually exhibits a lively range of art, often in crowded group shows that skew toward highly detailed, figurative works. This month the selection is sparser than usual. Works by a few of the gallery’s member artists are arrayed along one side of the gallery, and the rear alcove contains a show hosted by Authoring Action.

The latter group, a local non-profit focused on young people, promotes intellectual development and self-confidence through creative expression. Titled “Present: Tense,” its show brings together participants’ works on themes of personal identity, self-image and self-presentation — subjects relevant to all young people, especially in this era of social-media dominance. The exhibiting artists have been inventive, clever and thoughtful in exploring these themes.

Meanwhile, much of the gallery’s wall space is given over to Rachel Siminoski’s solo exhibition “Barriers.” Her 19 acrylic paintings range in size from 10-by-8 inches to roughly 4-by-3 feet, and they stand out in this context for their minimal detail and restricted palette, consisting entirely of gray shades with black and white. These works are much more subtle and restrained than what we’re used to seeing at Delurk, and in that respect they’re refreshing.

It’s possible to read Siminoski’s paintings as purely abstract compositions, but they consistently assert the impression of landscapes, in which the usual greens, browns and blues have been replaced by shades of gray, as in black-and-white photography. Details are limited to the geometric structures that indicate human additions to or intrusions on the landscape, and the sharply defined edges where contrasting shades of gray meet.

The reductive landscape imagery may have been invented wholesale or it might be based on sketches or photographs of real places. The forms and shapes often suggest mountain vistas and lakes or other bodies of water, but Siminoski’s palette hints at ecological damage.

A few of the paintings are untitled, but most carry titles that refer to barriers, enclosures or fences. Barriers can be natural or man-made, but fences and enclosures represent human interventions. These paintings also hint at other forms of long-term impact that people have exerted on the natural world.

The comparison or allusion that repeatedly occurred to me as I looked at these paintings was to the containment facilities used to hold coal-ash waste reclaimed from industrial spills in North Carolina and other nearby states in recent years. A landscape rendered in shades of gray — the color of ash and dust — suggests a severely degraded environment. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to characterize them as pared-down, post-apocalyptic vistas.

Siminoski steers clear of any such language in the concise, generalized statement about her work posted on her website. Instead she references the interaction of “biomorphic and structural forms. ... in a fabricated landscape” and limits discussion of the structural components to their most neutral, basic functions.

By declining to comment more specifically, Siminoski leaves viewers free to speculate on any potential social or existential applications.

Delurk member artist Cindy Taplin’s intimately scaled, realistic landscape paintings on the opposite wall make for a striking counterpoint to Siminoski’s work. They depict seemingly idyllic, pastoral locales Taplin has visited in Britain. There are no people in sight nor any obvious signs of them in these seemingly unspoiled natural settings.

Taplin’s paintings are displayed among a small selection of stylistically varied works by member artists including Chad Beroth, Emily Beroth, Jack Hernon and Jennifer O’Kelly.

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