Artist Profile: C. J. Lori

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C. J. Lori , Galatea Fine Art Opening Reception, June 7, 2019  Photo: George Shaw

CLOSE TO THE TREES – Consummate Imaginary Realism

Written By Frank Capezzera

Brookline painter CJ Lori opened her latest solo show, Close to The Trees, at Galatea Fine Art in Boston’s SoWa district on June 5, marking her fourth decade expressing a unique portrayal of the natural world in oil paintings. In a tableau of finely rendered interpretations of delicately fashioned meadows, streams and stands of trees, she presents startling departures from our expectations of the park-like settings: trees of all kinds rise from the earth, roots and all, as if they are delicate seed pods. Other specimens communicate through their forms and motions—one, with even a human passenger aboard. “For me,” Lori writes, “painting is a form of communication through which I convey my experience so the viewer will see what I see and feel what I feel.”

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C. J. Lori, Leaving the Stand, 16 x 20 in, oil on panel  Photo By Robert C. Zinck

Each of the eighteen large and small paintings on canvas, linen or panel demonstrates Lori’s self-taught mastery of delicate rendition through fine brushwork, meticulously selected hues and glazes (more about color later in this article). This in turn serves to make even more startling and dramatic the artist’s deeper observations about impermanence and change. Lori notes that the work of Rene Magritte introduced her to the freedom to misplace objects. However, she resists categorizations of her work as Neo-surrealism or Magic realism. (See www.cjlori.com) The paintings in this show continue her themes and intensify for the viewer with closer observation. The work falls into three groups: trees leaving, standing birches and dusk scenes.

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C. J. Lori, Take Me With You, 30 x 40 in, oil on canvas  Photo By Robert C. Zinck

Leaving the Stand (oil on panel, 16 x 20 in., 2018) and Take Me With You (oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in., 2018) are powerful examples of the theme of trees taking off: white birches or deciduous trees somehow have broken free of their places on the earth, their canopies and roots intact, as they are swept away by air currents suggested by distant, classical clouds. Perhaps the trees are freed from gravity or are actuated by necessity. Whatever the cause, the artist introduces us to an animistic world of change and disrupted human expectations at a time of global climate change. In Leaving the Stand a half-dozen birches rise up out of the soil together and appear to be floating away! Their roots and canopies vaguely hint at anthropomorphic postures. There is no cyclonic wind and all is calm in the face of this extraordinary occurrence. In Take Me With You, a squad of trees has become airborne, and one of them carries an ordinary man in a white shirt kneeling on a root ball. The brush marks forming his small face suggest surprise, exertion or a shout. It’s very open to interpretation. There is another painting with a woman in turn-of-the-20th-century dress waiving to a departing tree. These two are the only human subjects in all of the paintings. Something is happening, perhaps a challenge to the trope of humanity’s mastery of the world.

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C. J. Lori, Take Me With You, 30 x 40 in, oil on canvas  Photo By Robert C. Zinck

The second group of paintings includes full views and close up images of standing white birch trees. My favorites (although I love them all) are Seven Sisters (oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in., 2017) and Birch Spies (oil on linen, 15 x 30 in., 2018). The slender, piebald trees feel like characters, whose black and white scars and knot holes read as expressive “eyes”. With hints of humor, Lori invites the viewer to imagine that these formations are more than natural artifacts of age and insect work; perhaps they are ‘windows on the souls’ of these trees. Here, again, the artist’s consummate control of her image making permits her to be subtle with sky tones, while delivering gleaming tree bark in full sunlight and a delightful portion of a beautifully painted red Winterberry shrub, like a supportive cousin in Seven Sisters. As to the trees, they may be simply trees but questions linger. Are they looking at each other? At me? What are they thinking?

Four paintings from Cape Cod, including Audubon Evening, Wellfleet (oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in., 2017) and Off Jones Lane, Barnstable County, (oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in., 2017) are tranquil paintings of marsh lands and tree lines in silhouette, catching the last light of day without threat of arboreal decampment or the challenge of animistic communication. These are delicate meditations by the artist, with vibrant, satisfying violets and golds. Perhaps as a respite, she permits herself a departure from the drama and uncertainties of the other work.

Lori_Off Jones Lane, Barnstable County_24 x 36 in_oil on canvas

C. J. Lori, Off Jones Lane, Barnstable County, 24 x 36 in, oil on canvas  Photo By Robert C. Zinck

Finally, a note for colorists: photographs cannot convey the intensity and control of hues in the atmospheres established by C.J. Lori in each painting. With flawless surfaces she paints deep blues, inviting violets and rose skies, and, again, that saturated red Winterberry bush. My advice is to feed your soul with these paintings. Visitors to this show are in for the treat of seeing traditional methods of landscape image making, employed to create stimulating modern paintings that are both beautiful and provocative at the same time.

Close To The Trees, C. J. LoriJune 5-30, 2019. Visit Galatea Fine Art460 Harrison Avenue, #B-6, Boston, MA 02118, (617) 542-1500. Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 12-5 pm and by appointment. PLEASE JOIN US FOR AN INTIMATE TALK WITH ARTISTS C.J. LORI, JOE CARUSO & NIVA SHRESTHA SATURDAY, JUNE 15TH, 1:30PM AT GALATEA FINE ART.

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