The Buffalo News

Date: Friday, March 15, 2002
Section: GUSTO
Edition: FINAL
Page: G20

By: By BRUCE ADAMS – News Contributing Reviewer

Illustration: “Tree Construct No. 2” is part of Mark Lavatelli’s exhibit in Bryant Street Studio.


WHAT: “Mark Lavatelli: Recent Encaustic Works”

WHEN: Through April 4

WHERE: Bryant Street Studio, 289 Bryant St.


INFO: 884-9410
Think how often the arts have been inspired by trees. Joyce Kilmer rhapsodized poetically about their beauty. Charles Burchfield painted them as malevolent forces of nature, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright utilized their structure in stained-glass motifs. And of course trees led Dorothy to the Tin Man.

Then there’s Piet Mondrian, the inspired Dutch modernist who some 90 years ago created a series of tree paintings that grew progressively more abstract, until depiction was wholly surrendered to construction. This led to Mondrian’s mature signature style incorporating austere vertical and horizontal lines with primary-colored rectangular planes.

Mark Lavatelli’s exhibition of vibrantly painted tree abstractions currently on view at Bryant Street Studio pays equal tribute to the forces of nature and modernism, with more than a passing reference to Mondrian. “Recent Encaustic Works,” the inaugural exhibition of the shoebox-sized gallery and classroom is an auspicious start for the new venue and a striking accomplishment for the artist.

Lavatelli employs a traditional encaustic technique by layering hot wax-based paint and then selectively scraping the surface to reveal underlying colors. He merges representational trees with abstract, multicolored rectangular planes in a complex and visually compelling interplay of color, shape and line. By means of this rich and complicated process, Lavatelli reacts to the capriciousness of nature by creating his own pictorial idiom – an idiom that masters the natural environment, while still expressing its grandeur.

For instance, in the large-panel painting titled “Hub,” tree branches weave in and out of Mondrian-like planes delineated by razor-fine blue lines. Unlike Mondrian, Lavatelli employs a multitude of rich reds, ochres, purples and greens that blithely advance and recede within the picture plane.

Lavatelli apparently works from small studies of white pine and hemlock trees – two appear in the show – that focus on the trees’ inner verticality and rhythmic extension into surrounding space. But trees only provide a starting point for compositions that echo the complex orderliness and rhythms of the natural world. Some of the works on paper incorporate fragments of collage – usually photo images of foliage – that are echoed in the brushwork.

In “Tree Construct No. 2,” the integration of the abstract planes and representational trees is less complete, and so less resolved compositionally. This serves to underscore the achievement of works like “Treeline” and “Span,” in which Lavatelli incorporates deftly incised, richly textured surfaces with an acrobatic interplay of elements. Painterly flourishes – like the fluid scraping of encaustic pigments to produce barklike texture – add to surface sensuality. Throughout, Lavatelli demonstrates command of his medium and a profound appreciation for nature.

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