Robert Dash (1931–2013), the beloved Sagaponack artist, writer, gardener and creator of Madoo Conservancy, is remembered with an exhibition of his pastels, From Blue Hill, a series based on memories of Blue Hill, Maine, on view at The Drawing Room in East Hampton. Elegantly framed, each work is like a small treasure—subtle at first, the powerful sneaking up gradually, like making your way down a garden path to the crescendo moment of discovering open space.
From the grouping of pastels in the front room of the gallery, Dash demonstrates a keen sense of balance and space. Using a beige-tone antique paper, he leaves vast areas untouched, and in these areas there is room to breath. The antique paper also allows for white to function as color, the way it does in the garden. “So provoking a color is white, I even have brambles I don’t mind and dog roses and mushrooms on the lawn, fraises de bois in constant bloom, and chamomile,” wrote Dash in Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons, (2000) a collection from his East Hampton Star gardening column.
The negative areas, together with the areas filled with splashes of vibrant, natural color, form compositions that curve in opposite directions from the middle of the page—a mountain slopes from upper-left to mid-right, where it is met by a path leading from mid-right to lower left. Dash plays with variations on the two expansive, sweeping movements. In From Blue Hill II, 2013, a few sweeping blue lines form a mountain, sloping from upper left to mid-right, and hence from there black squiggling lines make their way back to the right, curving slightly downward, like a train coming toward you. The middle area is a lively and spirited collection of quick, undaunted marks of mostly blues and greens. In the foreground, an abstracted plant, in black pastel, completes (or begins) a line that brings us back to the mid-right.
Romantic and poetic, the From Blue Hill series are also as vigorous as the untamed nature they portray. From more definitive, recognizable landscapes like From Blue Hill IV, 2013, in which a rushing river, boulders, trees and plants are all distinctly recognizable, to the more abstracted forms, albeit still nature, in From Blue Hill XV, 2012–13, a sense of the wildness of nature can be felt.
Although the series was based on a Maine landscape, they were made in the artist’s studio at Madoo, which means “My Dove” in an old Scottish dialect, his home and workplace since 1967. “I do not paint in the way that I garden or garden as I would employ the brush,” Dash wrote, “although the process is often the same—both are arts of the wrist, the broadest, largest sort of signature, if you will, highly idiosyncratic, the result of much doing, much stumbling, and highly intuited turns and twists before everything fits and adheres to the scale of one’s intention. A good tree must often be moved to a more reticent spot when it begins to dominate and thus ruin the total orchestrations.” (Notes, p. 4) In this exhibition we can see the artist playing gardener, moving a tree here or there, a mountain this way or that; utilizing both memory and a mastery of composition to create something new.
Robert Dash, From Blue Hill is on view through November 4.
Also on view at the gallery is an exhibition of drawings and wall architecture by Chuck Holtzman. The Drawing Room is located at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. Call 631-324-5016 or visit drawingroom-gallery.com.