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Catherine Maize at Paul Thiebaud Gallery

CATHERINE MAIZE IS A DELIGHTFUL FIND, one of the loveliest still life painters at work today. I had seen her painting in real life a few years ago at William Baczek Fine Art in Northhampton, MA. It was quite by accident. I was on the road to New Hampshire. It was lunchtime. I was hungry but not enough to make a pit stop at one of those roadside eateries. In search of a real meal, I turned off to Northhampton where the food is good. The gallery was open and Catherine’s work was hanging. I fell in love.

That was 2007. She is represented now by Paul Thiebaud Gallery [1] in San Francisco. She had her first solo show there in 2009. Her second has just opened. The announcement, here in my hand, breaks my heart. There are only two paintings illustrated but each one is enough to make me fantasize about flying out to San Fran as soon as today’s snow stops.

She works in miniature. A small Morandiesque oil on panel measures only 4 1/2 x 8 inches. A glorious rendering of nasturtiums in a vase is 7 inches high. Hers is an intimist’s vision that does not rely on magnitude to convey the power of reality.


Catherine Maize, "Still Life with Vuillard Book" (2010) © Paul Thiebaud Gallery


A certain portion of her motifs—though not all— make use of that same spatial compression that preoccupied Morandi. So it is fair to call it Morandiesque. But, truth to tell, it is superior to Morandi. To me, certainly. I respond to it with greater pleasure. I have never been particularly drawn to Morandi’s painting. I respect it more than I enjoy it. His etchings, with the beauty of their dense lines and sharp chiaroscuro, move me. His painting does not. Until I saw Maize’s work, I did not quite understand why. Now I know. She conveys a passion for her motifs, for the thing seen. It is not a spatial puzzle or conundrum of design. It lives.

That sense of life, the j’ne sais quoi of good art, cannot be taught. It is a quality of soul. Maize has it. Morandi did not. Or, if he ever did, he surrendered it. Morandi was a bloodless man and his sang froid shows. Charles Gniech put it perfectly on the occasion of her first show with the Thiebaud Gallery two years ago:

Maize one-ups Morandi with intimacy of detail.

Maize both studied and taught in Chicago so—I am guessing—that Gneich, a Chicago painter and curator, knows the work in the flesh. It is a truism that painting has to be seen directly, not simply in reproduction. But the truism is not always true. Much art looks better online than in life. David Hockney, for one, paints for reproduction on the assumption that is how his work will be viewed by most people. Maize, by contrast, paints for the living eye. And with a lively hand. That hand, working across such small expanse, beckons the confidentiality of a close, personal look, not a digital one.

Go the Paul Thiebaud Gallery’s website and view the slide show. All works in the exhibition are there. Also, under the listing of artists’ names, if you click on Maize you can view works from her previous show.

Note: Maize’s work, together with so much else in the gallery stable, is a testament to Paul Thiebaud’s eye and the grace of his sensibility. His death last year was an unimaginable sorrow to his family. As a stranger, I dare not comment there. All that is left for me to say is that our culture lost a lost a defender of art that instructs us in what is worth feeling. Taste matters. Paul Thiebaud was drawn to art that places “care of the soul,” as Plato put it, ahead of all other reasons for art’s existence.


© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey