Looking at the county's vanishing places
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
John Suplee's paintings are lovely to
look at, and they have a warm, sunny tone, but the artist's little
tweaks and commentaries make them richly resonant.
His latest solo show, which opened on Dec. 8 at the Church Street Gallery in West Chester, is a bountiful selection of his vivid landscapes and his wry observations about the way time and progress are pushing aside the old spaces in Chester County.
Suplee's longtime dismay over the intrusion of development into the natural world, or the way it displaces history, is evident in “Crebilly Cut,” in which telephone wires pierce the branches of a row of trees with a ridiculously large gash. That same concern is seen in “Remembering Creek Road, Pocopson,” which captures the ancient sycamores and building at the intersection that have been bypassed by the new bridge and road in Pocopson.
Contemporary sprawl is addressed in “The Golden Door,” in which a morass of industrial blight dwarfs an almost impreceptible Statue of Liberty in a perspective from the New Jersey Turnpike. Then there's the three-part “American Life Triptych” – crowded horizontal slices titled “Traffic,” “Dwelling” and “Commerce” – that unfortunately sum up the daily experience of too many commuters.
But Suplee doesn't condemn bitterly. His works are from the point of view of someone who has deep roots in this area, and a nostalgia for the way the world was before “progress” pushed out what was time-honored and true.
There's an appreciation of the beauty of Chester County in “February Sunset,” with a shadowed field in the foreground, snow stretched thinly over a brown hillside, and a perfect pink glow on the horizon. It perfectly captures the elusive moment of not-quite-day in midwinter.
Suplee's love of flowers is seen in “Cheerful Disregard,” in which exuberant sunflowers try to overwhelm a stop sign. Flowers also take a final bow, with only a few scattered colorful blooms amidst the dried stalks in “November Flowers.” “Last of the Line” is a view of North High Street, heading out of West Chester, where a solitary living sycamore stands as a sentinel for what used to be a stately line of trees.
There's a quiet beauty in “Summer Solstice,” with a slanting summer light on a brick West Chester home; as well as in the large expanse of “Grand Spanish Landscape.” And don't miss “Off-Season Arcade,” which is hanging in the gallery's powder room. It's a stretch of candy-colored attractions jumbled together along a swath of empty boardwalk.
It's that kind of subdued duality – the beauty of what remains, coupled with longing for what is lost – that runs through Suplee's masterful paintings. You'll come away from this show with a renewed appreciation for the rich history of Chester County, and perhaps a bit of nostalgia for what is being paved over, or cut away, in our rush to the future.
“John Suplee: Perils and Pleasures of Modern Life” continues at the Church Street Gallery (12 S. Church St., West Chester) through Jan. 13. Gallery hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.churchstreetgallerywc.com.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.