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Charles Schwall At Bruno David Gallery

"Pelagic Mirror" by Charles Schwall. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
October 19, 2011
One large piece, formed by nine canvases, greets the visitor to the Bruno David Gallery, where Charles Schwall is showing Source Confluence.

The sophisticated art of Charles Schwall, whose studio is in the building that houses City Museum, is nothing like the wonderfully quirky works in that museum. Working in oil and gouache, Schwall carefully, almost scientifically, investigates principles of growth and organic systems and the curvilinear formations found in nature. His semi-abstract forms have clarity of concept that pulsates with life.

The idea of series, or seriality, is important to Schwall, who composes paintings that work together as a whole and have slight variations within the set. In this exhibition, the artist creates a sequence of paintings – multiple images that convey growth or metamorphosis from canvas to canvas.

Meticulously drawn, the works pay careful attention to formal and technical information. Although there is a latent geometry in Schwall's work, he interprets that information from a hand-made point of view. His approach is more intuitive and felt, rather than being a rigid geometric application. His undulating forms envelop one another and morph from one canvas to another with a consistent life-affirming motif.

The artist's use of color is also an important and distinctive characteristic in his work. Using light colors with subtlety and softness, Schwall places more neutral tones next to those with brighter hues, which gives a sense of expansion and contraction on the canvas. His subtle layering of colors allows for a continuation of the richness of lower layers to impact the optics. The surfaces resulting from his smooth and careful build up of paint have a soft presence and a sensual, almost velvety, feel.

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In both the individual paintings and in the installation as a whole, there is a striking distinction in the softness of color and downy surfaces, contrasted with the vibrant power radiating from the art.

Schwall addresses similarities in the big and small forces of life. The organic life reflected in these artworks echoes the micro, as it exists in the macro. By the unity and repetition in his work, Schwall explores the way microscopic organisms and cellular life reveal the cosmic forces of nature.

In a piece called "Our Waking Tide," the movement is horizontal and plays out over three different images, evocative of the ocean's tide or the swell of waves.

The exhibit's showpiece, "Falling into the Beginning," contains nine separate canvases, installed to form a single work. Engaging the viewer on multiple levels, its rhythm of color, shape and form create an undeniable experience of growth. Because the work is over 17 feet long, the viewer experiences it serially, moving along to view the entire piece in a manner that replicates the artist's developmental process.

Schwall trained at the Kansas City Institute of Art and has worked steadily in his studio the past 25 years. These works present him as a strong and mature artist at the top of his game.

A teacher of art during the day, Schwall obviously has a reserve of physical and psychic energy that gives expression to his forceful vision in these highly personal artworks. Long hours and loving attention are evident in each stunningly beautiful canvas.

The artist speaks an innovative language, with spiritual and mystical overtones, synthesizing a lyrical minimalism with sensual color. The works are quietly elegant in their tumbling forms, with skillfully imagined variations that create vibrant movement.

An opening reception for Charles Schwall: Source Confluence will be held Friday, Oct. 21, 6 to 9 p.m., at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Blvd.

Dickson Beall, a video artist represented by the Bruno David Gallery, produces arts and culture videos at StLouisan.com.

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