works by Berenice
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New York Time Review: “Swamp Series” by Phyllis Braff
August 31, ‘86


One of the significant upheavals in contemporary art concerns the use of the landscape theme. It is now sometimes perceived as a sighting from an airplane, or as a subject incorporating outer-space phenomena. It can reflect environmental worries through the choice of material and attitude, or it can entice the imagination by substituting an undefined flat surface traditional illusions.

The new landscape might be expressed through color alone - perhaps a symbolic use of green, blue, yellow or white - or it might allow the energy of paint marks to evoke natural forces.

Berenice D’Vorzon, a South Fork painter, explores a number of these interests. The latest work, currently featured at the Bologna/Landi Gallery in East Hampton, shows her to be reaching for sensations that are not normally seen or recorded.

She tries to get inside her views, attempting to look at their light from behind, and to study the actual growth process. The observations are translated into intense color and into spirited visual shorthand that owes a great deal to abstraction.

The exhibition is titled “Primal Waters; Florida Swamps/East Hampton Ice”, and it is these two locales that give the show its point of view: contrasts in climate, atmosphere, light and vegetation. Lush, exotic color combinations, highlighted with richly luminous pinks and greens, make the Florida canvases the more assertive, and often the most engaging.

To carry out her analysis, Ms. D’Vorzon becomes as familiar as possible with the subject - flying over it, and visiting it under many different weather conditions. There have been at least six trips to the Everglades.

The flights have led to paintings with unusual perspectives. Often there is a tilting, tipped-up ground, as in “Swamp Series (With Cypress Knees)”. In a Long Island scene “Accabonac Icing” the odd angle gives the appearance of an undulating, boldly patterned surface. Certainly a good part of the impact and originality in the D’Vorzon work can be attributed to the surprises in orientation and challenges to customary ideas about gravity.

Perhaps the best example, and one of the show’s most fascinating paintings, is the seven-foot “Night Swamp Fire”. Its mysterious black and green darkness is pierced by a massive, irregular light area of faintly iridescent purples, greens and yellows. The paint is made to seem semi-transparent, and this helps the large bright shape to produce a hypnotic effect. It is easy to forget about landscape space and allow that irresistible form to take on the appearance of a meditational mandala.

Ms. D’Vorzon brings the sensibility of an experienced abstractionist to her current work. It was as an Abstract Expressionist that she first exhibited at the Brata Gallery in New York in the 1950’s, and then participated in a number of exhibitions in the avant-garde Tenth Street galleries. She went on to build a substantial record of exhibitions and institutional acquisitions.

The experience with generalized forms is valuable in achieving her current, more complicated and subjective goals. These probes into nature’s growth processes are intended to be a summary of developmental stages - of ice chunks, tree roots, swamp vegetation and shore and water relationships.

She is most interested in seeing whether a painter can project a feeling of metamorphosis and to accomplish this she emphasizes broadly brushed, nonspecific images that will seem to be a synthesis. There is certain significance in the fact that these paintings compress not only a view and its illusionary space, but historical time as well.

Oddly enough, it is the artist’s watercolor studies that convey this transitory state best, perhaps because it is characteristic of the thinner paint to allow the sensation of things emerging.

The psychological effects of restless line and color generate a feeling of nature’s energy in the paintings. This becomes especially intense in the canvases bounded with a painted border, for these bands are shown rippling and occasionally being pierced, seemingly because of some thrusting, unrestrainedly force. Some of the agitation comes from liquid, dripping paint, but most results from powerful, swirling strokes that are inspired by water ripples or tree branched.

One of the best uses of pigment energy in a Long Island work occurs in “East Hampton With Scratch”, a glowing pink and yellow study of tall shoreline grasses, thick with burrs and brambles.

The strength here is in the way the paintings combine extraordinary visual effects with a serious examination of nature. When they are most successful, they can be exhilarating revelations.