'Ricordando' exhibit is cool, elegant, impassioned

Jeri Ledbetter’s “Percorso I and II” is among collection on display at L Ross Gallery. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

Jeri Ledbetter’s “Percorso I and II” is among collection on display at L Ross Gallery. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

Weather-wise, we seem to be in a blessed transition between summer and fall, but if you want a foretaste of winter, you might drop into L Ross Gallery where Jeri Ledbetter’s exhibition “Ricordando,” through Sept. 30, exudes a sort of fervent pale hush of elegance and longing. Not that there’s anything bleak here; rather, “Ricordando” — “remembering” in Italian — offers a wintry view that reminds us of the complexities of memory and the rigors of dream.

Ledbetter exercises what could be called Old School abstraction, with her panoply of technical mastery that covers the canvas within its four edges and posits a sense of composition that is both intuitive and formal. Her palette is muted, Arctic, an array of whites, grays, the occasional revelation of red, pink and yellow, but her gestural capacity feels infinite, and it’s in gesture, the movement of the hand, that these 13 fairly large works repay continued attention.

The pieces here, all oil and mixed media on panel, begin with the broadest of gestures, that is, the hand wielding a brush of medium width to create a white or ivory or cream ground that is scraped away, repainted, scraped again into a broad base that Ledbetter uses as her blank slate. Then come the swaths and scribbles, the blurring of the graphite lines, the sudden infusions of color, spare yet bold, hanging a bit in the backcourt.

What’s of paramount interest is in watching how a picture develops by following the artist’s hand as it moves faster or slower, in a reckless ecstasy of quick marking or more deliberately, achieving a paradoxical monumentality in the minutiae of detail.

Despite the fact that Ledbetter employs a similar palette and the same techniques in all these works, while they bear a family resemblance each seems utterly different. Notice, for example, how frugal and open is “Salto,” whose two thick black strokes entering from the top edge feel dynamic and animating, and how radical that feels next to “Cuore in Nodi,” a dense panorama of busyness and movement.

The heart of the exhibition is the two-panel “Percorso I and II” (48-by-72 inches), in which it looks as if the artist introduces a new element consisting of short strokes of gray that slant through the middle of both parts, a unifying factor linking not only the side-by-side panels but the powerful, even agitated, black and white markings that prevail in each part.

I used the term “Old School abstraction” above, and I meant it as a compliment; perhaps “classic” would be more appropriate. Whatever the terms or categories, I find Ledbetter’s work immensely intriguing.

However cool and elegant they may be, if paintings can be elegant and impassioned simultaneously, they open facets of nostalgia, memory and history almost unaccountable for their size. Certainly they project a European air, as if, though contemporary, they were built upon the ruins of a beautiful, fading and tainted civilization.

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Jeri Ledbetter, “Ricordando”

Also showing, “A Gathering of Horses,” sculpture by Fletcher Golden. Through Sept. 30 at L Ross Gallery, 5040 Sanderlin, Suite 104. Call 901-767-2200 or visit LrossGallery.com.

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