Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late Paintings of Lancaster

The industrial age isn't all ugly. "Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late Paintings of Lancaster" turns industrial subjects into visual poetry. A common grain elevator, for instance, takes on the symbolic significance of a great pyramid in the 1927 oil-and-graphite painting My Egypt — the painting that launched his last and best body of work. The artist portrayed the agricultural industry of his hometown in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, using a precisionist approach, organizing his composition so that the lines form precise, sharply defined geometric forms. The six paintings that anchor the exhibit are among the artist's most important works. These are accompanied by photos and studies that demonstrate the artist's process and focus. The studies allow us to see how Demuth's paintings evolved from the actual to become simultaneously symbolic and historic. We can better appreciate his aesthetic when we are shown the artist's intent — his decision to place the bend of a pipe at the painting's center (After All...) and to simplify a window pattern (And Home of the Brave) in the same composition that exactingly studies a traffic light, for instance. A couple of early watercolors, a loose Three Acrobats (1916) and the still life Cineraria (1923), demonstrate the painter's evolution toward his final, defining form. If you can't extract the process and history visually, compelling informational placards guide you. (Through January 20 at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)

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