By RAYMOND J. STEINER
SERENDIPITY, FOR SURE — I had stopped in at the Salmagundi Club in New York City to take a quick peek at two of my paintings hanging in their exhibition, “Noble Nocturne”, and was richly rewarded by an evening of delightful surprises. I was fortunate in having Kathleen Arffmann, the Club’s Executive Director, share an early dinner with me in their dining room, during which she urged me to take a look at the exhibition up in the main gallery and to stay for a musical program before I left. But first, before we went down to the dining room, she took me on a short detour to an upstairs room to share with me a mini-exhibition of the drawings of Richard Schmid. A long-time admirer of Schmid’s paintings, this was my first opportunity to study his drawings and was captivated by his precise and skillful draftsmanship — a bit of a surprise for me, since what had always drawn me to his paintings was the apparent looseness of style that gave his paintings a deceptive sense of spontaneity, far divorced from these careful studies (just one more confirmation that all good art begins with careful preparation!). So…my first pleasant surprise for the evening as it unfolded before me… then, on to dinner. I’d always enjoyed my meals at the Salmagundi, finding both the food and the ambience of the surrounding artwork to be what the German people call “gemütlich” — that is, comfortable and “homey”, reflecting an old-world tastefulness that befits one of New York’s venerable old art clubs — and being able to spend any time with Kathleen always an enjoyable and mind-expanding experience. So, although my intention was to just make a quick stop before I was on my way, I was happy to take my dinner there — though somewhat less enthused to take the time to look at another exhibition or sit through a performance. It is my habit to “take in” art in small doses, and whether it is literature, music or pictorial art, tend to partake of it discretely, preferring to allow each discipline to have its own space in my head. I had already taken an overview of the exhibition downstairs and was not prepared to “muddle” it with new images and certainly not prepared to combine it with music — a discipline I find even more demanding of concentrated and exclusive attention. However, since it was not my intention to write about “Noble Nocturne” I gave in to Kathleen’s urgings, subsequently pleased that I did and found myself, as noted above, delightfully surprised. The Salmagundi, as I said, is a venerated institution, the elegant old brownstone that houses it (the last standing on New York’s Fifth Avenue), a building that exudes culture and history, each of its rooms tastefully retaining its past glory — not the least the main gallery, which is a wonderful place to exhibit artwork. On the evening of my visit (May 21), the gallery held the John C. Traynor exhibition, nearly 100 paintings that had a fairly uniform distribution of city- and landscapes, florals, and genre scenes depicting figures in various situations and activities — most of which highlighted Traynor’s considerable skill in depicting the play of light on form. A formidable talent, Traynor displays a constant expertise, an unerring eye for perceptual illusions and a keen sense of the vagaries of form, space and color. Using a mosaic-like “patching” of brush-strokes, he manages to meld what up close appears disjointed to be, in fact, a unified whole — in other words, creating images in much the same fashion as our eyes make “sense” of the world around us. He is especially adept at making “real” the properties and influence of light as it affects the visual process — a particularly difficult problem for painters since, unlike form, it has no actual “substance”. Though varied in subject and motif, Traynor manages to impose a coherent aesthetic vision on his viewers, offering a body of work that is “of a piece” — confident, believable, compellingly “true”. This is work that deserves wide recognition and the pity is that the show only had a six-day venue, coming down on May 23rd — so I was indeed fortunate to get a chance to view it. The “icing on the cake” for the evening of my visit was to sit in this gallery — surrounded by these light-filled canvases — to listen to the talents of soprano Gretchen Farrar, accompanied by guitarist Francisco Roldán and pianist Alexander Wu, the group offering up a potpourri of songs and music that ranged from Spain, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico to our own U.S.A. Far from clashing with Traynor’s paintings (my usual fear of lumping disciplines together notwithstanding) the experience of Gretchen Farrar, the soprano, singing “Madrugada” (“Dawn”) with Traynor’s Sunrise Through the Tuscan Hills as a backdrop — a 48” x 72” oil that featured a blazing sun on the horizon — was almost overwhelming in its impact and certainly an image that will linger in my mind for some time. The rest of the performance was equally harmonious with its elaborate “stage set” — I could not have asked for a more pleasing evening and came away with absolutely no regrets. My evening of Art, Music and Dinner at the Salmagundi Club was wonderful!
Sunrise Through the Tuscan Hills by John C. Traynor