Dmitri Cavander’s Calm Strength

By Shawn Hill, Arts MediaOctober 25, 2002

Deer Isle

Dmitri Cavander’s paintings are all about vision. Realistic but gestural, traditional but quirkily personal, they emphasize his vision. That is to say, his point of view. Whether landscape, cityscape, interior, or portrait, what you feel most strongly in his composition is his act of looking. He makes careful choices (about balance, about symmetry, about cropping and focus) to guide us to seeing what he saw, to feeling what he feels about a particular place.

Contrasts abound, as his work seems to thrive on the energy inherent in several charged oppositions. We see interiors, but usually the exterior as well: the road through a windshield, the world beyond the window. His color schemes are often complementary, red in green in his two portraits, purple and gold in many of the urban vistas. Light at particular times of day, and in particular seasons, is carefully observed. Buildings blur and colors fade in the brights mists of dawn. Or sunlight licks the corners of them at dusk, while throwing the bulk of the skyline into looking purple shadows. Always, it’s either winter or summer.

Cavander uses these extremes, not to heighten drama, but to achieve a vibrant, energetic balance.

In his portrait of a bearded male, all is warm and rosy inside. The walls are rust; the man (his profile thrown into shadow before a bright window) sits comfortably in a sweater and a scarf. The window is so bright, however, because the outside is a much colder world. A lone, bare tree persists in a field of packed snow.

An urban vista shows an office or a conference room in what seems to be the late afternoon. Inside, a stark table, some elegant chairs, and a lone plant hanging before a giant plate glass window. Nothing is centered; a third of the window is shuttered, the chairs are loosely scattered about.

Outside, we look down on a busy urban sprawl in dusky purples and browns. The buildings spread around us in semi-ordered patterns, like a maze made by ants. The frenetic energy of that environment out in the macrocosm is very unlike this sparse office, just one small microcosm within. Open, expansive and quiet, the empty room seems to soak up the long rays of the setting sun indolently.

View Toward Great Spruce Head uses a similar composition, but here calmness pertains both inside and out. A large table holds a few scattered documents, more in focus than the dark, blurred masses of pine trees outside. The horizon is a blue shimmer suggesting a lake or oceanfront property.

All is cool blues and greens, save for a vibrant burst of orange and gold in a clump of flowers almost in the center. The mood is restful. The fragment we see of this house and its setting suggests a country retreat, a luxurious respite from urban life.

Bursts of high key color come in several of Cavander’s paintings, which otherwise tend towards modulated expanses of monochrome washes. He paints in oils, and uses the plasticity and the jewel-like tones possible in that medium well.

There are several shades of white in one interior, an almost unremarkable one given the seemingly casual framing. In it, we’re looking from one room to the next, past a doorway that blocks our view of a table. The distant room is brighter and suggests a home of quiet, stark good taste. There’s antique furniture, and, incongruously, a toaster on a side table. There are some minimal black and white framed images on the wall.

On a small table, half-hidden, Cavander casually tosses off a little still life worthy of Fantin-LaTour. A single red rose in a vase, and beside it a china bowl of apples and oranges. Blink and you’ll miss it, Cavander seems to be saying, though really it’s all about that discovery, about roaming through the house until you come across that little, happy harmony of color and shape.