[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
February 18 - 25, 2000

[Art Reviews]

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Preservation Worcester

Artist Alexander Gazonas savors the local scene

by Leon Nigrosh

At the Arts Center of Southbridge, 111 Main Street, Southbridge, through February 27.

Alexander Gazonas put his first paintbrush to paper when he was 12 years old; and now more than 60 years later he's still at it. Retired from successful careers as both a fine artist and a graphic-arts director (he was also designated a Copley Master by the prestigious Copley Society of Boston in 1980), Gazonas has devoted his time to painting, often completing as many as three watercolors a day.

A selection of more than 65 drawings and paintings is currently on display at the Arts Center of Southbridge. The pleasant gallery, located in a refurbished Victorian house, creates a relaxed setting to view Gazonas's masterful landscapes and marine subjects. He never paints from photos. ("Photography is a dirty word.") Instead, each of these works was made on location, plein-air; the smaller quarter-pages were often finished in an hour and a half, while the larger ones were completed later in the studio.

Although he works in pen and ink and oils, Gazonas prefers watercolor "because it is more challenging. You have to commit yourself to a color and a wash and go with it. With oils, if you don't like the way it looks, you can just scrape it off and start over." His approach to watercolor is authoritative and sure-handed, he always keeps the spontaneity and freshness of his subject matter apparent. His large watercolor Up for Repairs may appear to portray a simple scene of a rusting hulk of a fishing boat in dry dock, but it really presents a planar/linear vision symbolic of the tough life of the North Shore fishermen. His large Cape Ann Dragger, also in dry dock, is an arrangement of light and color that only hints at the tough waters this craft withstood for years. Helen G is a tired, but trustworthy, motor launch, while Whaleboat II sits idly moored, awaiting the next crew to come aboard.

The exhibit's most significant paintings are the images of Worcester that Gazonas has produced over the years. Island at Elm Park and Snow at Elm Park are but two of 126 paintings that Gazonas has made of that park alone. Also, there is at least one painting of every local diner in Worcester, including Kenmore Diner, which he completed just weeks before the tragic fire.

Worcester railroad bridges also rate high in his repertoire. He used a lot of burnt sienna in his renditions of the rusty bridges at both Cambridge St. and Southbridge St., while being much kinder to the bridges in Elm Park and over Beaver Brook. He manages to get both diner and bridge together in R. R. Bridge and Diner, a colorful view of Southbridge Street with the Miss Worcester peeking out of one corner. There is also a crisp rendition of a ramshackle Union Station painted in 1990, and a delightful version of the landmark Coney Island Lunch.

All of these paintings have been executed with a light touch -- a combination of wet and dry brushwork -- and are imbued with a luminosity not often found in watercolors. With all the attention to detail, the changing color palette, and the intricate play of light and shade, Gazonas works as swiftly as says he does. But if you want to catch the master at work, tune in his weekly show on local cable TV and watch as he brings a painting from start to finish in less than a half-hour. His paintings are a delight to the senses.

The gallery is open Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Call 764-3341.


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