Arthur Dow, the American artist-educator who was an important mentor to painter Georgia O'Keeffe, insisted that realism was "the death of art," and that composition, not imitation, was the artist's primary responsibility.
Dow rejected representation as the main purpose of art and instead urged his students "to fill spaces beautifully" with harmonious forms that expressed their personal responses to nature.
Such a philosophy seems well suited to the art of David Brewster, whose abstract-expressionist-style landscapes and interiors are on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery this month.
Brewster's highly stylized scenes are easily recognizable as genre pieces, yet they look "modern" because they are rendered in slashing, bold strokes of color that convey the general outlines of recognizable objects -- trees, clouds, hills and fields -- without troubling too much over specifics.
In Brewster's work, the bravura brush stroke itself is often the true subject of the picture. He lays on his colors thickly and with a poetic abandon that is capable of producing remarkable dramatic effects despite the minimal pictorial means he employs.
By the same token, one tends to respond to many of these works in terms of the adroitness of their execution rather than their emotional or psychological depth.
The pictures more or less strike a similar chord of feeling, that mixture of awe and wonder which the 19th century called the sublime, and which the New York School painters occasionally resurrected in their monumental, nonrepresentational canvases.
"Nothing is less real than realism," O'Keeffe believed. "Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things."
Brewster's paintings are not nearly as large as those of the 1950s-era abstract-expressionists, but the best of them are imaginative compositions that fill space beautifully, eliminate the confusing details and convey the "real meaning of things" without in any sense imitating them.
The handsome companion exhibition in the rear gallery presents works on paper by Grace Hartigan, Richard Serra, Elaine de Kooning and others.
Both shows run through Jan. 8. The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 410-539-1080.
For more arts events, see Page 38.