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The Brandywine tradition, as you haven't seen it before

12/01/2017 09:32AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Smaller works by Mark Dance have nearly the same amount of detail as his larger works.

Gallery: Our Brandywine Tradition [9 Images] Click any image to expand.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

Mala Galleria's “Our Brandywine Roots” exhibition features works by three artists that blend beautifully. One, Karl Kuerner Jr., you've heard of, but the others you probably haven't. The result is a show with delightful surprises around every corner.

West Chester artist Mark Dance has the color palette and skill of the best Bucks County impressionists. His larger landscapes – “Pennsbury Autumn,” “Springtime with Skunk Cabbage” and “Red Bridge Farm,” displayed side by side, have the feathery texture, light and scope of works by Edward Redfield, Walter Baum or Daniel Garber. But his smaller paintings and pencil sketches are magical in their own way. His small oils are evocative vistas packed into frames only a few inches wide. The gray-blue winter view of a house amidst bare trees, “House in Winter,” has a nearly palpable chill, as does “Thawing Pond.”

Dance's pencil sketches are little gems and supremely confident, rendered with subtlety and precision. “Rural Route Study No. 2” gets the essence of a home, road and grass with the most economical use of a pencil. His “Springtime” study is a splendid tapestry of tree trunks. Dance hasn't exhibited much in the region, but his work is dazzlingly good.

Speaking of dazzling, Mark's father, Robert Dance, exhibits several glowing paintings of waterfowl and shoreline views that have a photorealist level of detail, each one a jewel. His “Mattamuskeet Whistlers” and his sunset shoreline vista “The Sunset Sail” are so realistic that you feel like you've stepped into the scene. The latter is a magical distillation of violet-orange light, gently rippled water and backlit clouds.

Karl Kuerner has the most immediate name recognition here, and his large paintings include the crisp, action-packed “You Can Run,” with dozens of crows pursuing a fox along a snowy ridge. Kuerner's subtle, blue-on-black nighttime view of billowing clouds, black hillside and solitary bird packs plenty of drama. Sunnier but just as satisfying is his field of flowers and wall of green trees in the background, “Canada Thistle.” There's a selection of smaller works by Kuerner as well, and “Forsythia” gets the essence of the sprightly yellow blooms.

Regional artist Robert Dionne has a fine eye for details of Revolutionary War uniforms in his paintings that draw on the Brandywine Valley's history. Sculptor Alejandro Lemus shows some show-stopping bronzes, many inspired by marionettes with their strings jutting up to an unseen operator, or perhaps broken free of their controller. “Wind” is exquisite, capturing the symbolic spirit and the billowing cloth of its expressively posed figure. Lemus' bronze of Don Quixote is a tour de force, defying gravity with its dramatic composition and tiny details.

Lined up along the windows of the gallery are works by Amy Bruckner. She takes old musical instruments and applies mosaics to them, giving them new life as sculptures. The intricate mosaics have the look of stained glass windows, particularly the vivid blue background of “Forsythia Violin.”

You'll want to take your time to savor this show, which skillfully blends the artists, contrasting their mediums and styles. “Our Brandywine Roots” manages to pay tribute to the Brandywine tradition without being obvious, or relying on the same old subjects. It's fresh, surprising and richly rewarding throughout.

On Dec. 1 from 6 to 9 p.m., there will be an artist reception for the show during the First Friday Art Stroll in Kennett Square. “Our Brandywine Roots” continues through Dec. 29 at Mala Galleria (206 E. State St., Kennett Square). Visit www.malagalleria.com for more information.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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