Connally review

Connie Connally:  New Home, New Directions

Vibrant sun-drenched colors envelope viewers in Connie Connally’s works, Coastlines, her latest exhibition, on view at Craighead-Green Gallery in Dallas through February 14.

Connally recently relocated from Dallas to Santa Barbara and this is her first work to come out of that move.  Not only has the feeling of the work changed in response to the environment, but elements of her new topography have given her a vocabulary that evokes the feeling of the ocean air as well as the physical shape of the land.  As a plein air painter, California provides her with the temperate climate that allows her to spend long periods of time drawing out of doors and has also given her a broad new range of subject matter.

Color is the primary vehicle that creates strong horizontal planes in some of the works and skyward thrusts in others.  It pushes beyond the edges of the canvases, towards infinity.

One of the most striking color contrasts between California and North Texas is seen in the light and sky.  According to Connally, “moisture in the air leads to saturation in color”.  The intensity of these colors envelopes the viewer as much as does the air it depicts.  This color shift illustrates one of the most dramatic changes in Connnally’s work.  While yellows remain predominant, water inspired blues and fog drenched whites have also come to the fore in her new work.   

While color provides the initial appeal, it is the inner dimensionality that ultimately fills the canvas and the surrounding space.  Her move to a coastal city intuitively inspired her to draw the water.  And as she looked around, she realized that her new landscape is more vertical than she had imagined.  She “loves the idea of things flying”.  And fly they do.  Birds of paradise, Dragon trees and Skybirds soar against the rich blue backgrounds.

The fog-inspired paintings, on the other hand, balance the color saturation of the flora-inspired work.  Soon after arriving in California, she noted that when the marine fog rolls in, it desaturates everything.  The usual brightness is dulled to gray.  On these days, she only uses gray pastels in her drawings.  It is only when they are transferred to canvases and rendered in paint that Connally injects them with her own color sense.  The strong influence of Joan Mitchell’s work can be seen here, particularly in the same kind of push and pull of Mitchell’s colors.

Connally’s diffused focal points also create a vibrant tension.  The energy often swirls outward to the sides.  The “struggle (s) with chaos versus structure” is another challenge for Connally.  While nature can appear chaotic, there is an underlying structure to it.  In her work, there is a sense of anarchy with the profusion of line and color.  But there is also framework.  It demands a closer look to get a feeling of the most ethereal elements of the natural world.   

Another characteristic of Connally’s work, automatic writing, may be a by-product of Mitchell’s influence.  Connally alludes to the natural world without directly depicting it.  We feel surrounded by the fog in the grisaille work and the warmth of the sun in the floral pieces.   

For years, Connally worked as a portrait painter.  Her sitters are often placed against indeterminate spaces, abstractions unto themselves.  In 2002, while in graduate school, she participated in the SMU-in-Taos program.  A professor there challenged her to try a completely new direction and in trying to chart that new course, she sat alone in a field for a month until chance encounter led her to a private ranch where she saw a water lily pond, with a pink barn reflected in it.  This outing provided the spark that gave Connally the new focus she sought.  With this and the influence of Mitchell, a fresh path was forged. 

In the earliest of these works, she let go of the figure and allowed the abstraction, long the background in her portraits, to come to the fore.  Her new series is the result of years of experimentation in different locales and with different visual resources.

Her success in balancing the abstract with the non-objective is a hallmark of her success as a painter.  She maintains the essence of form.  At the same time, she keeps the rest of the canvas alive either through color or lack thereof.  To that end, the constant movement of water and air shimmers throughout her work.  Just as nature never stops moving, Connally has managed to capture that kinetic energy.

Perhaps because they are created out of doors, the drawings have a freedom to them that often translates into greater structure in the paintings. The Gallery has a number of these preparatory drawings, which are unique works of art on their own.  They are available for viewing and it is worthwhile to take time to compare the two as they demonstrate Connally’s creative journey and her complete facility in both her use of media and organization of space.   

© 2009, Nancy Cohen Israel

© Nancy Israel 2012