Christopher Blyth at Pelavin Gallery

CHERYL PELAVIN FINE ARTS, established nearly three decades ago, has changed its name. It is now simply Pelavin Gallery, under the directorship of Todd Masters, newly aboard as co-owner. Masters, an experienced gallerist, is the founder and CEO of Black Umbrellas, his own fine art consultancy.

In its three decades under Ms. Pelavin, gallery inventory leaned toward floral motifs or diaphanous abstractions. Work was dominated by the kind of gossamer sensibility we think of, like it or not, as feminine. It is a bit soon to know for sure, but judging from the choice of Christopher Blyth for the this inaugural show, Masters brings with him a more robust—can I say masculine?—aesthetic.

There is real heft to Blyth’s images. The show’s title, “The Build Up,” refers to his working methods, building up his images by a process of accretion, like a coral reef. One layer of color follows another, surface texture deepening on motifs that extend horizontally across the support. Like the muscular collages of John Walker, Blyth’s encaustic and mixed media pieces read as landscapes, but ones freed from all scenic clichés. Topography gives way to suggestions of geological strata. The viewer greets what seems a dappled, translucent crosscut of sedimentary rock, deep-laid and formed from the accumulation of layered deposits.

Christopher Blyth, "New York" (2008)

Blyth’s procedures are perfectly pitched to his motifs and the sense of time that they evoke. And his surfaces are beautiful. Each one of these painting has the flavor of one of those old hand colored geological maps made in the early decades of the nineteenth century. They create the illusion of layers of sediment formed by weathering, the breakdown of rocks, organic decay, or by chemical reactions in underground water. A rugged beauty asserts itself at close range. Viewed at a bit more distance, textural irregularities subside and Blyth’s delicacy of coloration asserts itself. “Elements” (2009), “New York (2008) and “Luminous Region” (2008) are incontestably lovely.

His titles are saturated with signals of mutability: “Ancestors,” “Recollection,” “It was the 80’s,” “Passing Time.” The words state plainly a sensitivity to the temporal that is implicit in his motifs.

This is Blyth’s first solo show in the city. He makes the rooky mistake of exhibiting too much. The accompanying handful of monochrome blot-and-shmear pieces on vellum look like art school boilerplate. An artist’s “process” is small beer outside the studio. What matters is Blyth’s achievement. His striated simulacra of landscape make a compelling debut. That is quite enough.

©2010 Maureen Mullarkey

This review appeared first in CityArts, June 8, 2010.