Walk into the Grimaldis Gallery these days and you are virtually surrounded by water. Sukey Bryan's 18 "Water Paintings" reveal an artist whose work has become a great deal more focused in the last year. The results are largely, but not exclusively, positive.
Bryan is a landscape painter who won a major National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1993. It allowed her to travel to Iceland, Scotland and Norway to gather visu- al material for her work. Her show last year at Galerie Francoise contained paintings of intensity and romantic vision, though the subject matter was not always totally clear and the artist's sense of composition occasionally deserted her.
Since that time Bryan's subject matter has narrowed. In this exhibit she deals exclusively with water, and specifically with the spouting water of geysers and the downrushing water of falls. There's no doubt about the subject matter of any of these paintings. Bryan's sense of color and dynamic brushstroke combine to create water that's so palpable you almost feel like stepping back as it comes roaring down the canvas and splashing up or rolling out at the bottom.
"Godafoss 8" (more than half of the paintings are named after a place in Iceland called Godafoss) doesn't work as well as it might, but that's rare. More often, the paintings do exactly what one feels Bryan intended. "Godafoss 6" creates the giddy feeling of standing so close to the falls at the left that one might be pulled in and down. In one of the most successful works here, "Geyser 1," she manages to convey a sense of both the uprushing water at the center of her column and the downfalling water at the outer edges.
Swiftly moving water, by a combination of sight and sound, can be tremendously exhilarating. Even without the sound component, Bryan can evoke that sense. She is able to do so because she uses paint to convey water's movement rather than to slavishly reproduce water itself.
Although all of these paintings deal with moving water, they are varied enough that they do not pall. That has as much to do with paint application as with variations in subject matter or composition. "Godafoss 3" and "Godafoss 10," for instance, are vertical pictures of almost exactly the same size that depict waterfalls falling from right to left. But the effect is quite different. In "Godafoss 3," Bryan employs more uniform color and a smoother, longer, vaguer brush- stroke, whereas in "Godafoss 10" the stroke is more nervous and jagged, there are flecks of many colors in the water and Bryan has heightened the light to create a more dramatic image.
For all of its successes, the range of emotion and subject matter here is narrower than in last year's show. Perhaps that's because there's more accomplishment and less struggle evident here. Certainly, the accomplishment comes through loud and clear.
Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Sept. 30.
Call: (410) 539-1080.