Certain exceptionally fortunate artists find credos to guide
them on their creative paths, simple words of wisdom that seem
to state succinctly everything they would wish to accomplish
in their work. For the New York-born Impressionist Patrick Antonelle,
whose solo exhibition, "New York Citiscapes" lights
up Gallery 84, 50 West 57 Street, through February 10, the following
lines by Alexander Pope provide guidance and inspiration: "To
build, to plant whatever you intend,/ To rear the column, or
the arch to bend,/ To swell the terras, or to sink the grot,/
In all let nature never be forgot."
Ever mindful of Pope's advice, Antonelle never forgets nature
when he paints the city. Indeed, since his first ambition was
to be an architect, Antonelle considers it perfectly natural
to bring man's creations and those of God into balance and harmony,
a task he accomplishes splendidly in his vibrant mixed media
paintings of famous New York landmarks. Antonelle's canvases
never fail to remind us that even in the gray concrete canyons
of Manhattan there can be sparkling spring air and bursts of
brilliant foliage; even in the dead of winter, enchantment can
come drifting down in the form of snowflakes to blanket the parks
and cap the peaks of the steeples and skyscrapers, making our
old familiar city seem new and young again.
An American original with a refreshingly populist bent, Antonelle
is included in the collections of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli,
Michele Marsh, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump, and many other luminaries.
His work speaks directly to the heart, bypassing sterile aesthetic
theorizing to share his apparently inexhaustible store of wonder
with the rest of us. Yet for all his lack of pretension, Patrick
Antonelle is a highly sophisticated painter whose solidly constructed
compositions reveal that architecture's loss is the art world's
gain. For there is an innate sense of abstract form in Antonelle's
work, imbuing it with a visual impact that eludes many others
who work in a lyrical realist mode. Indeed, in terms of compositional
ability, Antonelle sometimes surpasses even some of the great
French Impressionists he admires. His sense of architectonic
structuring invariably asserts itself, even through the blizzards
of pointillistic strokes that activate the surfaces of his snow
One of the most lovely of these is "The Plaza, Winter,"
where the green gables of the elegant old hotel rise against
a glowing winter sky as tiny figures make their way through the
snow-carpeted park below. Antonelle's unique skills as a colorist
are especially evident in the many subtle pastel hues glowing
within the large expanses of snow, bringing it alive with a veritable
rainbow of reflected light. Few contemporary Impressionists can
equal the command of delicate chromatic changes with which Antonelle
achieves such optically dazzling effects.
Like the early Impressionists, Antonelle has benefited considerably
from his study of traditional Oriental painting. The Chinese
influence makes itself felt in "San Remo, Winter,"
another, more ethereal snow scene, with spidery tree limbs limned
in graceful calligraphic strokes, and tiny gray figures symbolizing,
in the Oriental manner, the smallness of man in the enormity
of nature. By contrast, it is of the bolder areas of flat color
in Japanese woodblock prints (which also influenced van Gogh)
that one thinks, looking at Antonelle's painting, "Nocturnal
New York, Flatiron Building, Winter 1906." Although the
composition of the painting is based on a photograph by Alfred
Stieglitz, Antonelle transforms it and makes it his own through
his coloristic abilities, depicting the looming form of New York's
oldest skyscraper in silhouette, rising like the prow of a mystery
ship against a vibrant night sky of a particularly breathtaking
blue. The nocturnal poetry of the picture is made even more magical
by brilliant yellow lights glowing through the darkness, dissolving
in watery reflections on the rain-slicked street.
Patrick Antonelle again evokes a nostalgic sense of old New
York in "Dakota, 1890," in which that grand and venerable
hotel (not yet jostled by other buildings that would spring up
around it in later years) looms in lordly isolation over Central
Park, where tiny skaters dot the frozen lake. Here, the charming
scene is flooded with light from an opalescent yellow winter
The chromatic magic that makes Antonelle's paintings so appealing
translates equally well into the lithographic print medium. In
"May in Central Park" and "Treasured Moments,"
the former depicts a hansom cab passing in the distance, behind
a plot of pink tulips, the latter rapturously captures the shared
joy of a woman and a little girl, standing under the spreading,
blossoming branches of a gnarled and majestic tree.
Undoubtedly, Alexander Pope would approve of how well Patrick
Antonelle remembers and celebrates nature, even amidst the imposing
towers of Manhattan.