Intimate Views 

Small works capture local artist Laura Reilly's big vision

Local oil painter Laura Reilly has built her reputation largely on the strength of her impressionistic landscape work. However, during the last year Reilly has demonstrated range beyond the large-scale plein-air paintings most often seen in local galleries.

One of the ways Reilly has done this is to reduce the scale of her canvases, producing pieces that distill the richness of her work into a tighter space. At the same time, Reilly has expanded her content to include still-lifes, florals and human figures.

The common factor in Reilly's work, however, remains the "alla prima" method of painting -- creating an entire piece while the paint is still fluid. One of the difficulties involved is keeping the colors of the wet paint from mixing. "You try to create, as perfectly as possible, an artistic statement in one painting session," Reilly said. "It's a matter of vision, and of knowing what you intend from the first brush stroke." But, as with most things, there is a spontaneity involved. "Sometimes the paintings take on a life of their own," she explained. "If the painting takes me down a different path, I have to be responsive to that."

Regular visitors to Gertrude's Restaurant in Old Colorado City may dispute the assertion that smaller-scale floral pieces are new to Reilly's repertoire. That's because she has been showing a sampling of those at Gertrude's for some time.

But the 14-painting Little Gems exhibition of Reilly's work currently at the restaurant is new material with the exception of a single entry. According to Reilly, "Tea at Glen Eyrie" is included because it is one of her most technically accomplished works.

True, this impressionistic glimpse of diners looking out a stately window of the Glen Eyrie estate shows off the artist's talent for portraying figures as well as her ability to capture a sense of light. However, Reilly's floral work, both in the still-lifes and the landscape pieces, provides the most opulent and immediate of the contributions to this show.

Two of these, "Sweethearts," and "Rose Red" are luscious renderings that outshine most floral paintings because of their freshness, a quality Reilly attributes to the alla prima method. But there is an exceptional feeling of depth as well, a characteristic more difficult to achieve in paintings of this size.

"Rose Red" contrasts a boisterous red vase with pinks and greens of the flower arrangement to create a sense of vibrancy. Meanwhile, the viewer is brought into the picture through cropping of the elegantly managed blossoms. "Sweethearts" achieves a sensual tangibility with crimson rosebuds, attaining a level of palpability that makes you want to touch them.

Reilly uses vivid color contrasts and a dark saturated palette to counteract size limitations in many of the pieces in the show. One of those is a lyrical depiction of fellow artist Anne Roe seated in a sunlit field of flowers. "Artist in a Garden" is a charming synthesis of Reilly's talents, joining her landscape skills with the floral and figurative proficiency evidenced by her recent work. The central figure of the artist works against the purples and greens of a densely wooded backdrop. Closer to the viewer, this dark atmosphere yields to the dappled whites, reds and yellows of a lush spring foreground. The result is an appealing contrast in values.

Similar in subject is "Lakeside Summer," a landscape composed around a couple in the shade of a large tree at the edge of Prospect Lake. Reilly uses brushstrokes of varying sizes and shapes to orchestrate the illusion of the shadow cast by the tree within the impressionistic theme of the piece. "I did that one two summers ago," she said. "It's never been shown before because I liked it so much I wasn't ready to part with it."

According to Reilly, prospective viewers should not worry about the fact that Gertrude's is a venue where food necessarily takes some precedence over artwork. In spite of the problems involved in getting a really close look at a painting over a table of diners at rush hour, Gertrude's has always been interested in accommodating both functions of the space. "The staff at Gertrude's is really good about having people come in just to look," Reilly said. "They are wonderful and enthusiastic about the art."

Even if they weren't, how bad could it be, having a glass of wine and bite to eat at Gertrude's while perusing the exquisite art on the walls?


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