Sense of Light

John Kane’s response to passing seasons is reflected in his landscape paintings, on view at Canal Frame-Crafts Gallery.

By: Amy Brummer


"Setting Sun", a painting by Erwinna, Pa., resident John
Kane, on view at Canal Frame-Crafts Gallery in Washington Crossing, Pa.,
through Feb. 28.

   The vibrant greens of a rain-soaked field unfold under hazy
gray skies. Dampness is palpable in the hushed weight of the air. The details
are diffuse, punctuating the verdant expanse with whispers of muted russets and
   After a stretch of bad weather began to give him cabin fever,
John Kane painted "Fields in the Rain."
   "He rigged up an umbrella and just went out to paint," says
Deborah Crow, owner of Canal Frame-Crafts Gallery in Washington Crossing, Pa.
More than two dozen of Mr. Kane’s canvases are on view at the gallery through
Feb. 28. Titled Darkness and Light, it is his third show at the gallery,
and the works convey the artist’s ability to play with various stylistic elements
while focusing squarely on his subjects.
   A resident of Erwinna, Pa., Mr. Kane moved to Bucks County in
1985. Prior to that, he was living in New York, pursuing a career in illustration.
With clientele that included Time magazine, PepsiCo., RCA Records and several
publishing houses, he was finding success yet saw the field changing from freehand
work to computer-generated designs. He continued to toil in the field for several
years after leaving the city but began to explore other avenues.
   He drew on his interest in oil painting, which he developed
during his college days at the University of New Hampshire. Drawn to the beauty
of his rural environs, he approached the work head-on, liberated by the range
of individual choices fine art work afforded him.



   "I feel like I was let out of prison, so to speak," Mr. Kane
says. "There were so many tight, rigid guidelines to follow in illustration. Now,
I can go outside and just slop paint on, and it is a much more personal thing."
   While he occasionally paints still lifes and people, Mr. Kane
is primarily a plein air landscape painter. Working directly in the elements,
he mines his visual environment for places that are permanent yet changing, sometimes
revisiting sites in different seasons. Slogging through a slushy winter day or
drinking in a golden autumn afternoon, he approaches these moments with equal
   "For one thing, when I work outside, there is so much more information,"
Mr. Kane says. "And aside from the physical beauty there is a spiritual aspect
of being there. I think that is why I am enamored with landscape painting. Besides
all the physical stuff, fighting the weather conditions and all of that, it’s
that I’m living the experience."
   His pioneer spirit is akin to the Pennsylvania impressionist
Edward Redfield, a plein air painter whose rugged landscapes are marked by bold
compositions with untethered vitality. But Mr. Kane is wary of that comparison
because he does not want to be perceived as following in another’s footsteps.
Uncomfortable with labels, he explains that his style incorporates a variety of
influences and aesthetics and is best described as American landscape painting.
   "The work ranges from traditional impressionist to post impressionist
and fauvist," he says. "I do that sometimes just to maintain interest. I go out
and think deliberately, ‘How am I going to pump something into it?’"


"The Delaware at Night."

   This attention to mood and atmosphere is the strong point of
the show. Each of the pieces has a uniquely compelling character, and this comes
from the fact that Mr. Kane gives each work its own personality. The paintings
are united by Mr. Kane’s pronounced brushstroke that gives his works a subtle
   "Slifer Valley Road" is eye-catching with a hot orange foreground
vibrating against cool greens in the distance that re-emerges in the pale grays
and whites of the farm buildings in the distance. "Clay Ridge Winter" evokes the
drab palette of winter — leafless brown trees rising from the snow covered
banks of an icy stream. But Mr. Kane imbues it with a twinkle of retreating light,
low in the horizon, warming the beige tones of the building at the water’s edge.
   "Setting Sun" is wild with sharp reds and greens fleshing out
an energized hillside leading up to a spare and blocky barn. Behind it three silos
catch reflections of pale lavender and pink. A bright purple path cuts a swath
across the foreground and wisps of intense turquoise peek out from behind the
cloudy sky.
   A night painting, "Front Street Frenchtown," is richly colorful
in its darkness. The deep smoky blue of the sky melts into a dark range of hills
that hang behind the empty street. The buildings, swaths of sienna, ochre and
olive, retreat into the shadows as the overhead streetlights bathe the road with
puddles of canary yellow.
   The places in Mr. Kane’s paintings are as much a reflection
of the regional landscape as they are landscapes of his mind. They are familiar
in a distant way, not just by sense of place, but through Mr. Kane’s ability to
capture the reactive feelings that emerge in response to the changing seasons
and the shifting light of a passing day.
Darkness and Light — Oil Paintings by John Kane is on view at Canal Frame-Crafts
Gallery, 1093 General Greene Road, Washington Crossing, Pa., through Feb. 28.
Hours: Tues.-Wed., Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. For information,
call (215) 493-3660. On the Web: