Construction, paintings by Joan Wadleigh Curran

By Anne R. Fabbri

Savery Gallery

October 4, 2015


Construction, eighteen paintings by Joan Wadleigh Curran at Savery Gallery, opens our eyes to all the intricacies of nature’s forms abetted by convoluted constructions created by humankind. Working with gouache on black paper and oils on board or canvas, Curran’s eighteen compositions portray ropes, greenery, clay pots, rubble, and even a glowing pink vase. Contrasting colors define the composition and forms emerge from a dark background. Although Curran often depicts objects employed in construction, she paints them in a natural setting, such as Outcast featuring two pairs of gardening gloves discarded in an herbaceous patch or Construction, with new fencing in the process of being erected.

Release, is a fascinating study of a tangle of diverse roping in gold, gray and warm shaded white wrapping around a tree trunk. You, the viewer, instinctively want to follow the intricate patterns established by each of the ropes. If you have an analytical mind, you might even want to unravel them one by one.

Stack is the masterwork of the exhibition and the most recent. Said to be an accumulation of recycled materials piled high in an interior setting (note the adjacent red rope twined around a pipe extending from a wall), its imposing dimensions, five feet square, and contrasting colors emphasize the foreground, creating a striking immediacy.

Curran is sensitive to forms in nature—the leaves, stems and growth patterns of plants. She also captures the changing texture of clay pots, revealing the abrupt, sharp cutting edges of the broken ones in contrast to their usual silky smooth exterior. The composition of her paintings, with bold, contrasting colors emphasizes the foreground, almost verging on the abstract.

This exhibition of paintings from 2013 to the present provides an opportunity to compare the two mediums employed by Curran: oil on canvas or board versus gouache on black paper. For me, oil on canvas is the clear winner. With that medium the artist better conveys differing textures, reflections and subtle nuances of light. Although Pink Vase, gouache on black paper, is an outstanding study of a graceful, man-made form bathed in light, I instinctively wanted to view it in oil on canvas and to savor the reflective glow of such a beautiful object.

Anne Fabbri is a curator, critic, and lecturer. Her writing has appeared in Art in America, the Art Newspaper, the Broadstreet Review, and elsewhere. She was the founding director of the Noyes Museum of Art and director of the Paley Design Center, University of Philadelphia.