In "Valley With Parfleche," one of Laura Wesley Ford's paintings at Galerie Francoise, the artist has included across the bottom of the image a band of red and black strips.
This two-dimensional element, playing against the illusionary recession of the landscape above it, tends to flatten out the whole picture to the viewer's eye. In particular, it makes the triangle of yellow hill directly above it look like a two-dimensional area of abstract yellow as well as a hill receding into the distance.
Earlier in her career, Ford's work was more abstract. While she's now doing landscapes, the abstract aspects of her pictures, along with her forceful brushwork and fine sense of color, help give these works their strength.
Over and over they achieve a balance between abstraction and representation. In "Groton Barn," the barn roof painted in a Gauguinesque red-orange exists as a rectangle of color and as roof at the same time.
Moreover, Ford manages a reversal of the traditional relationship between medium and image. Traditionally, the objects in a picture gave the illusion of solidity, while the brush stroke that created them was unnoticeable. But with Ford, the objects -- whether a barn, a mountain or a lake -- would look like two-dimensional elements of a geometric abstraction were it not for the thickly applied paint and readily visible brush stroke, which give them a sense of physical substantiality.
The fact that each of Ford's larger oils here is painted on two boards of equal size, creating a line down the center where the boards meet, also works to break down the illusion of recession into space and emphasize the two-dimensional nature of the painted surface.
But they are also landscapes, and as such project a sense of meaning and values. Despite the sophistication of formal elements, such as color and composition, they possess a feeling for the simplicity and integrity of the rural life.
The problem with this show is that there ought to be more paintings in it. At four paintings and eight drawings, it isn't large in total number of works, and the paintings are a good deal more satisfying than the drawings. Some of the latter are obviously studies for the paintings here, and all look more like studies than like finished, stand-alone works. But Ford's paintings, though few, are rewarding enough to make the trip to Galerie Francoise worthwhile.
LAURA WESLEY FORD
What: Paintings and drawings
Where: Galerie Francoise, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through May 31
Call: (410) 337-2787