Kent Lovelace: Occitania at Lisa Harris Gallery

Birch Pond by Kent Lovelace

“Birch Pond” – Oil on Copper – Image courtesy of Lisa Harris Gallery

The oil on copper landscapes of Kent Lovelace on display at Lisa Harris gallery are stunning, mature work that can be appreciated by arts experts and novices alike. Lovelace’s decades of experience painting on copper have allowed him to master its peculiarities and produce works that are truly luminous and arresting.

To those who are wary of landscape painting—I understand. The idiom seems saturated and is certainly a favorite of hobby artists whose work teeters on the edge of kitsch even if it is technically good. However, landscapes done right can truly take a viewer across time and space—need no further “content” or “criticality” beyond their power to immerse us in another land and its peculiar light.

I also understand those who are wary of unconventional media that might seem gimmicky—in this case painting on copper. A novel medium cannot elevate works that are at base mediocre or poor, but that doesn’t stop some mediocre artists from attempting to make their works more interesting through mere novelty.

Murs by Kent Lovelace

“Murs” – Oil on Copper – Image courtesy of Lisa Harris Gallery

This technique is an old tradition, but rarely seen, and it can be used poorly, whether by a lack of familiarity or an ignorance of its potential. Copper is a desirable surface because unlike canvas and linen and other fibers it does not dry, sag and warp over time. Oil and copper expand and contract evenly, too, so older paintings on copper are some of the best preserved and do not develop craquelure. Properly varnished copper will not form verdigris, as is evident in paintings by Rembrandt and Hals, still as vibrant and warm as when they were painted almost 300 years ago.

Copper can be tricky because it can impart its own color when the paints are not entirely opaque, but its reflectivity can add a warmth and light to properly applied translucent pigments. Copper is heavy, too, compared to canvas and panel, so framing it properly requires an extra effort on the part of the artist.

Lovelace has mastered all of the strengths of his surface, using a mix of translucent and opaque oils that allow ponds and sun-dappled groves to glow and even transform with changes in lighting. I saw this demonstrated when assistant to the director Amanda Dellinger dimmed the lights on a few of the paintings. The effect was mesmerizing—it was like watching the sun move behind a cloud or noon become twilight—not a dimming on a flat, unresponsive image but a change within the image, subtle but significant.

Ridgeline by Kent Lovelace

“Ridgeline” – Oil on Copper – Image courtesy of Lisa Harris Gallery

Lovelace’s compositions are strong, pleasing and well-chosen, even if they at first seem typical. They are not overly idyllic, nor are they photo-realistic. They are colorful without being garish, soft without being saccharine. The worst that one could accuse them of is being “safe,” but their beauty is undeniable even to critics and viewers who want more thematic content. I should add that the process itself took some delicacy and risk for Lovelace at certain points, for he leaves strategic veins of copper exposed. They are not at first noticeable, but their color and their glint in the bark of trees and warm fields looks perfectly natural even on close examination and further allows the light to transform each work. These are living fields and forests that can transport the viewer across space while also reflecting the passage of time.

Occitania is on display at Lisa Harris Gallery through April 29