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Petal to the mettle

Flower exhibit blossoms

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If at first you feel like you're walking into a full-blooming flower garden, don't be surprised. Maybe you can smell the flowers. Or taste them. The sight of some visual art provokes such sensations. And if you swoon, remember that looking at art can bring on a good case of synesthesia, the production of sensation in one sense by the stimulation of another.

It's pure pleasure to drink in the hothouse colors of the vibrant, botanically inspired paintings by San Francisco artist Daniel Phill on view in Flower Power. Now showing at The Modern Eye Gallery in SouthEnd, the exhibit is filled with animated joie de vivre and gorgeous, punched-up primary colors. Flower Power is a riot of paintings -- more than two dozen in all -- varying in scale from 12" x 12" up to 60" x 48".

Painted with vibrant greens and yellow ochres alongside cadmium red, cadmium yellow and deep ultramarine blue, Phill's hues and chromas stay pure and pleasurable without dipping into overly sensational candy colors. The ebullient painting "Clarkia" is swirling with color, but it's held in check by compositional discipline that still manages to evoke the presence of wind by the artist, who deftly paints swaying botanical forms that seem to lean away from the breeze.

More glowing shades of blue and emerald green permeate the undergrowth in "Fluent." Whether painting in acrylic on canvas, paper or linen, Phill stretches the plasticity of the medium by stacking, over-painting and painting wet-on-wet, usually with admirable results that don't push too far.

A sort of gentleman action painter, Phill uses the brush to direct the action, sometimes flinging the paint to make arcs; other times, he dabs the paint onto the canvas, building stacks of pooled colors. Although some of the pooling action of the acrylics results in a puckered, decidedly "plastic" quality, Phill quite successfully varies the texture and weight of his paint. Quickly, always with a deft hand, his arcs become stems in "Candytuft" that arch and flow across the canvas, like the long necks of attenuated swans.

These slender ribbons of color are the stems that define the composition of the tall vertical painting "Byrony Two," a riot of color with green background and intense accents of orange petals and dark reds. In this piece, the arching stems become the infrastructure that allows us to believe in this painting -- to believe in the fantasy of Flower Power.

In "Celosia," heavy blossoms droop like a moment caught in time, as they do in the sensual "Square Blue." In this painting, dangling, overripe flower heads punctuate the composition with a swollen red weightiness that evokes pollen-laden blossoms. Further evoking nature, Phill implies the presence of the sun in the warm, glowing "Rock Rose," one of the brightest paintings on view. Predominant in cadmium yellows, the shimmering atmosphere of the background offsets the heavy, globular blossom-forms.

Zooming in for a close-up, the petals and sepals in these tropically flavored corollas may seem to form into an iris ... or a daffodil. His paintings, though often named after real plants, do not define horticultural reality. Phill mines landscape imagery impulsively for his personal wellspring of ideas and inspiration, and these richly colored, expressionistic, abstracted flowers, though closely related to real plants, leaves and gardens, dwell primarily in the blooming vegetation of the artist's mind.

But even if he isn't a botanist, Phill pays attention to the details -- for instance, to the tiny mechanisms of the filaments of an otherwise imaginary daffodil in "Quill."

One of the boldest and brightest paintings in the show, the very red "Wake Island," contains consciously smeared areas -- and the thinly layered white and golden ochre area is splotched with lots of reds, some dark, some bright. A delicious stack of colors in the lower right hand corner was painted wet-on-wet, with indigo layered on ochre.

Phill seems to use color intuitively, often employing bright accents against more subtle backgrounds -- and sometimes using these same brilliant colors against other, even more brilliant, backgrounds. We see complements, but mostly the primaries and some tertiaries win out: orange, cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, turquoise, yellow ochre.

Sometimes grounded by a horizontal or slightly slanted horizon line that reads like a predella (as in "Square Blue"), Phill's botanical paintings play a clever game, working well as pure abstracts yet clearly borrowing representational elements from the landscape.

Rich in primary reds, yellows and blues, with a plethora of cleverly mixed secondary and tertiary colors rendered with the artist's vigorous brushstroke, Flower Power is a series of intensely colorful, often sensuous paintings -- and a pleasure to behold.

The exhibit Flower Power runs through February 17 at The Modern Eye, 1923-A South Boulevard. Hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday through Saturday. For details, call 704-333-3190 or go online to www.moderneyegallery.com.

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