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.