DAVID PRATT and Maryann Dean, showing together at the Barbara Schuller Gallery/A.R.T. through July 13, make a beguiling duo. Although separated in age by nearly four decades, they share a sweet, slightly haunted sensibility that sees the world as the shimmering habitat for poetic feelings.
At 72, Pratt is a watercolor artist of astonishing abilities. He has lived in Holland, N.Y., most of his life and has had only a smattering of shows over the years.
This one is a revelation, like the unearthing of a local treasure. It includes works from the late '40s to pieces executed this year. Some of his most compelling landscapes are those that have been reworked over 30 years or so.
In the '50s Pratt studied with Charles Burchfield, but only occasionally does he reveal anything like Burchfield's brand of realism, and if he's a mystic he's of a different stripe than his mentor. Instead, his landscapes effortlessly mingle many styles.
In paintings like "Steel Plant Glow," for instance, he takes the ordinary and makes it ethereal with a Rothko-like light. In "Yellow House" he's a bit of a surrealist as strange leaf-shaped trees with faces watch as a dusty pink cloud angles through the sky above.
In other works, Pratt paradoxically becomes the cubist, multiplying lovely, foggy planes. When he heaps up jagged images of buildings he resembles John Marin; when he pares things down enough he becomes a nervous Milton Avery.
Throughout all this marvelous work there is a typically American angle: The ordinary is never ordinary. On the face of it Pratt is painting regional scenes. But they hum with personal feelings. They work on you slowly, quietly, as though the artist were whispering secrets that only he knows.
Dean holds a similar faith -- that hidden just under the surface of appearances is a spirit of one kind or another who only needs a little coaxing to come forth.
Most of the time she's more literal about such things than Pratt. For instance, "swimmers" appear in a fruit dish, hidden in Picasso-like patterns. One very impressive painting called "Tulips With Eyes" seems at first a somber, patterned still life. But lurking amid the lines of the table cloth is a nude doing a kind of swan dive.
These hidden figures seem almost redundant. With her graceful line and searching patterns she already has given her images a strong emotional undertow. Nobody is going to look at a Dean and think that the artist is only juggling patterns and toying with abstracted figures.
Her personality rings through the work and it is a more powerful personality when the points aren't taken so insistently. "Tulips with Eyes," which is really remarkable, trembles with foreboding not because of secret swan diver but because of Dean's control of the dark, broken picture space.
Dean may not quite have the confidence at this point to let the guts of the painting tell the story.
"Study With Drapes" is an amazing painting in a lot of ways. Its odd modeling, built from form-following lines, is a moving device. The figure has some of the same incongruous weight and animation that the Mexican muralists gave their figures. But the stretched linen canvas left to hang around the edges (the "drapery" of the title) may finally only be a clever trick. Why not paint the painting that is so powerfully there and skip the extras?
That may be one difference between these two talented painters: Pratt triumphs by multiplying strokes and squiggles until the entire page seems to swell with feeling; Dean is best when she builds more consciously, giving her intuitions a solid place to live.