Ashlynn Browning and John Maggio interpret the natural world | Visual Art | Indy Week
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Ashlynn Browning and John Maggio interpret the natural world 

Going green

Ashlynn Browning: Bridging the Inner Landscape
John Maggio: New Works on Paper
Lee Hansley Gallery
Through Aug. 25

In Ashlynn Browning's artist's statement for her show Bridging the Inner Landscape at the Lee Hansley Gallery in Raleigh, she describes how a spring residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts affected her "much more than she imagined."

The influence of the lush, natural environment resulted in a proliferation of small-scale paintings fueled by the colors of forests, hills and meadows. Green begins to take on a sense of infinite variation in these acrylic on panel paintings. It functions as a foundational element of almost every one of the more than 30 pieces on display. The recurrence and dominance of green in this show suggests an urgency and energy in the most expansive way toward an idea, the idea of "green," and the role of nature as fuel for aesthetic production.

The works coalesce loosely around the structure of an organic grid, which Browning uses as a springboard for gestural exploration. These paintings do a lot in a small space. Browning achieves a powerful sense of depth by working expressively with contrasting colors (reds/oranges against greens) and by contrasting darks and lights. She also fluidly makes use of a range in the density of the paint itself, from thickly layered strokes to washes that verge on transparency.

The shift in Browning's palette is underscored by some of the larger-scale (presumably earlier) works on paper on display. Pieces such as "The Gray" and "Bridges and Ladders" are attuned to a completely different set of colors: blacks, reds, grays. The influence of nature on this new body of work is apparent on many levels. There is a fecundity in the abundance of pieces, a feeling of fertility, evidence of the life force that catalyzed their production. It is also interesting to note the shift in these works from linguistic gestural modes that reference the art of Cy Twombly to an abstract, organic impulse that seems more in the lineage of painter Joan Mitchell.

click to enlarge "Banff Series No. 3" (2005) by John Maggio. Mixed media drawing, 32 in. x 40 in. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LEE HANSLEY GALLERY

Lineage is an essential aspect of this exhibit, with the presence of recent works by John Maggio. Maggio has taught art at UNC Greensboro for more than 30 years, and he was a teacher of Browning's. This makes for some fascinating resonances. Like Browning, most of Maggio's work on display (all of which are mixed media on paper) echoes natural forms. The work also speaks to the presence of the grid in nature. Maggio pursues nature with an almost architectural rigor. In his work, organic forms are read subjectively, but the work also feels highly analytical, investigative. Here the act of drawing is also the act of questioning and clarifying. M.C. Escher might be the patron saint of these works.

Six of the largest pieces on display are from Maggio's Banff series. They circulate around the idea of pines, but they quickly shift into formal constructions. Maggio's palette is limited. In these works color reinforces structure, but the pieces are not "about" color. Other works on display here include some smaller pieces from Maggio's Subliminal series, more overtly architectural, dense compositions that generate their own sense of lineage to the Cubists and specifically to the work of Georges Braque.

Browning and Maggio have produced bodies of work that represent two distinctive articulations about ways in which nature remains an activating force in art-making. This speaks to the idea of nature as a limitless source to which artists can always return, the originary inspiration.

Lee Hansley Gallery is located at 225 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh. The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and by appointment. For information, call 828-7557 or visit www.leehansleygallery.com.

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