b. sakata garo

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March 20, 2005
Art Pick of the Week

Nature untamed

Gina Werfel's bold abstractions joyful to behold
By Victoria Dalkey, The Sacramento Bee Art Correspondent

Gina Werfel "Reflections" 2002 .
Gina Werfel's recent paintings at b. sakata garo carry on an amicable conversation between abstraction and representation. Including both large-scale gestural abstractions and smaller painterly images of the Sacramento Valley, the show offers different points of view about a common subject: landscape.

The abstractions, which have a vertical format, are evocations of color, light and movement which suggest reflections in water, foliage and floral motifs, the essence of landscape without the specific details. The more representational works, which have a horizontal format, employ bold painterly markings to delineate recognizable subject matter, most often scenes of suburban houses in semirural surroundings.

Werfel, who came to California three years ago to teach at the University of California, Davis, has exhibited regularly at galleries in New York City and Birmingham, Ala., for many years but is a relative newcomer to the local art scene. Though she has been included in group shows at the John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, the exhibition of 20 oil paintings at b. sakata garo is her first solo show in Sacramento.

While some of Werfel's smaller works get a bit lost on the gallery's brick walls, the aggressiveness of her energetic mark-making overcomes for the most part a setting that is generally hard on paintings.

While Werfel's earlier landscapes focused on Maine, the Southwest and Yosemite, her new ones examine the clash between nature and man-made structures that occurs as agricultural land is developed. While nature is partially tamed in these images, Werfel's brushwork stays wild, as thick strokes of paint define the elements of the landscape. Up close, the images dissolve into pure painterly markings that assert their individuality, but from afar they read as loosely rendered landscapes that are simultaneously impressionistic and expressionistic.

In these works, Werfel's approach to color ranges from the subtle, grayed tones of "Stonegate Palms" to the brighter hues of "La Playa Drive." The motif of houses and trees facing on a pond with reflections is common to most of these works, which hover on the edge of abstraction. Of them, "Winter Light," a swirling image of grays and greens, stands out. Also compelling is a wild welter of marks making up an image of palms in evening light.

Werfel's lush and lovely abstractions have affinities with the works of the late abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell. In these large vertical canvases, Werfel's gestural handwriting takes on a lilt and her color seems to cut loose and sing.

The sheer joyful exuberance of painting comes through in these works, which range from the subtle radiance of "Reflection" to the tender, springlike, dance of "Movement." Werfel clearly has a romance with paint, but she tempers it with intelligence, control and a discriminating approach to color that keeps works like "Flowers" from lapsing into decorative sweetness.

Gina Werfel paintings

WHEN:> Noon-6 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays through April 2

WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.

INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276