Tree-Lined Formula

  • The Boston Globe

    FRIDAY, AUG. 22, 2003



    Another Miami artist has his first Boston show at the Arden
    Gallery. Sebastian Spreng paints landscapes of dark trees
    standing isolated on a distant horizon. Using that simple formula, he makes each
    painting an exploration of color and texture. The lone tree or stand of trees
    becomes a metaphor for the self, further focused upon and isolated by the black
    or brown hazy border Spreng paints around each work. With his expert play of
    paint, he imbues each piece with emotional tone, like a fierce or bittersweet

    ”Blue Sunset” sets two birch trees, their white-barked trunks
    mere slivers, standing side-by-side like the farm couple in Grant Wood’s
    ”American Gothic.” Spreng soaks his canvas in brilliant blue, which pales
    above the trees and darkens on the patch of land just beneath them. He
    manipulates the paint so the light looks pleated, adding somehow to the sense of
    distance and sorrow.

    In ”Oriental Tree,” the trunk glistens gold under a smoky
    cloud of leaves beneath a sky as richly colored and textured as red velvet. The
    earth, too, is deep red, but Spreng breaks the sea of red with a ribbon of pale
    blue-gold light across the horizon, seeming to festoon and celebrate the

    The relationship between figure and ground is a great riddle in
    the history of painting. Spreng takes his figure — the tree — and makes it the
    backdrop for his ground — the wild color and texture and mood of his paint.
    Reducing the figure this way is unusual and strangely satisfying; it’s like
    looking up at the stars at night and realizing how small you really are.

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