Another Medium: Novelesque Images

"IMAGES FROM ANOTHER MEDIUM", paintings and monotypes by Debra Claffey. At the Loading Dock Gallery, 46 Waltham Street, #102m through December 1. Gallery hours: Wed.-Sat., 12 noon-5 p.m. By appointment: 622-5502

by Jeanne Belovitch

Looking at Debra Claffey's work feels as if you're seeing the visual mode of a novel. The themes her paintings and monotypes take are based on Claffey's associations and friendships with jazz musicians.

On a grand scale, averaging eight feet in length, these paintings, done convey an unusual sense of presence that makes the viewer want to imagine details about what's happening in the scenes. Canadiana Suite, for example, a picture of pianist Oscar Peterson performing at an outdoor concert in Amherst, provokes a feel for the relationship between the audience and the performer. But that's not all. Claffey's ?interly interpretation of this performance begs for details---details about the people watching, the music being played, the friendships in the crowd.

Commenting upon the lack of detail, particularly in her faces, Claffey said, "I don't need to get into detail. I like stances and postures, the way people sit and carry themselves...the visual message is not necessarily embodied in the face." Claffey's style, choice of colors, and often times rudimentary approach is what gives her work strength.

If she won't give us visual details, the artist certainly urges us to provide literal ones throuogh this technique. In the work It's Easy to Remember---also the name of an old standard tune from the 40s---Claffey creates a city hotel lounge in which a couple dances to the music of a combo. This scenario excites the imagination: who are these people? Are they celebrating an anniversary? Are they entangled in an affair? The questions are countless.

Just a Closer Walk to Thee is a painting of musician Arnett Cobb, who is backed by a saxophonist, drummer and pianist at Fat Tuesday, a jazz club in New York. Using dark colors and focusing on the stance of these musicians, Claffey paints intoher work the energy of the music and the sensuality of the room.

In Robins Nest, which captures a scene in another hotel lounge, a pianist sits at the keyboard as a couple sits at a table nearby. Claffey's work here recalls another man and woman...Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in the original film Brief Encounter.

Her monmotypes are much smaller in size and less appealing than the aformentioned scenes. It is evident that these were her first attempts at composition for the finished works.

Claffey has three strong interests at work in her paintings which she has successfully integrated: her visual interpretation of reality; her association with music and stron friendships with musicians; and her desire for the narrative. According to Claffey, she attended college to become an English teacher before she received a degree from the Museum School at the Boston MFA and before she married Art Matthews, the jazz pianist at the Westin Hotel.

Source: South End News, Boston, MA; 1983