As a relative newcomer to the greater Northwest art community, I am often at a loss when discussions arise regarding all but the most prominent of local artists. The upside of this situation is that it is still possible for me to be surprised.
Cris Bruch suggested that I see the paintings of the late Drake Deknatel. While I took his recommendation under advisement, I didn’t think I’d be writing about Deknatel’s work, first, because that would mean two reviews of Leach exhibits in as many months, and because I don’t have a strong relationship with a lot of contemporary painting.
I will, however, admit to a long-held notion that fertile ground can be found in the medium when a painter plays with the boundaries of abstraction and figuration. I am not alone in this notion, or in the assessment that Deknatel’s painting often succeeds in this challenge, especially in the work just prior to his death in 2005. The surfaces of his canvasses are richly textured, and the figures, while standing apart, also blend with the field in which they are positioned, thereby reinforcing the dynamic quality of the work. To over-use a phrase, Deknatel is clearly a painter’s painter, which is all well and good, for his proficiency with paint will hold one’s gaze; however, it is still not enough to make me put pen to paper merely to reiterate what has already been better said elsewhere.
Leach has titled this exhibit, “Small Paintings.” The paintings are arranged in two groupings, each with one large painting and several corresponding smaller paintings. One group shows a person holding what appears to be a satchel. The large painting in this first group is titled “Boy Sisyphus” (2005). The smaller ones in this grouping are untitled, but all have notations on the back that read either “Figure with Ammo” or “Man with Ammo”. The second group revolves around a large painting in which a figure stands with a similar posture to the other set, yet in this group holds a toy airplane. All of this second set is untitled, although the large piece has the notation “I wish I could fly”, and for the small ones, “Figure with plane”. The treatment in all of the small paintings from both groupings varies significantly from that of the large paintings, as well as between themselves. As studies, the palette, textures and details of the surface and figure change, and their interest lies in those differences. Even so, one must ultimately return to the large paintings that they reference.