THE NEW YORKER, JUNE 14 & 21, 2004

The implacable Maine landscape painter almost charms in a show of smallish, full-dress studies for his very large, dauntingly adept major works. Welliver has a genius for light-riddled scraps of woods, rocks, water, and mountains, merging reality with an idea of reality in a way that is reminiscent of Wallace Steven’s poetry, only much colder. In a catalogue of the show, the poet Mark Strand finely observes that Welliver’s works “embody a vision so uncompromised and of such compact immensity that the viewer is powerless before them.” Through June 18.

The Washington Post , Sunday, June 6, 2004
By Terry Teachout

… No less lookable is “Neil Welliver: Oil Studies,” up at Alexandre Gallery through June 18. It’s an exhibition of small-scale preliminary studies for about 35 of Welliver’s large paintings of the woods of Maine. He views the world through the prism of “ all-over” abstract expressionism, filling his canvases with rich, not quite realistic detail. Here, the modest size of each painting makes for a tauter, more focused effect, in much the same way that Jackson Pollock’s smaller drip paintings have a concentration missing from his giant-sized work.
What’s remarkable about these exhibits is that either could have been booked by the Met without raising a hackle. That’s New York for you: Even our galleries mount shows that smaller museums would kill to present.

ARTnews, September 2004
REVIEWS: Neil Welliver
By Stephen May

Neil Welliver is best known for these monumental- often more than six-foot-square- depictions of the intimate beauty of Maine woods, fields, and streams. Small oil sketches, the basis for the larger works, were showcased in this compelling exhibition. Painting on site in all conditions and seasons, Welliver brings a special energy and apparent spontaneity to these masterful easel-size works, most measuring 24 by 24 inches.
The 35 sketches here, turned out over three decades, looked like fully realized paintings, but they were all labeled “study.” They were clear-eyed and unsentimental yet filled with feeling for such subjects as dense grottoes of trees in the grip of winter (Study for Erratic and Snow, 1993); icy brooks rushing through forests (Study for Head of Passagassawaukeg, 1992); and ponds with impressive pyramids of twigs and branches (Study for Beaver House, 1982). There were also views of rock-strewn hillsides, verdant in warm weather (Study for Blueberry Burn-Morey’s Hill, 1997) or covered with snow (Study for Winter Barren, 1974).

One highlight was Study for Ledge on Black Brook (1987), which rendered the cool, dark, sylvan feel of a rocky forest setting. Study for Peat Bog (1982), a kind of summary of Welliver’s allover work, offered a panoramic view of autumnal trees across a violet-accented bog, leading to a hill topped by fleecy clouds in a blue sky backed by distant mountains. Welliver combines broad, thick brushstrokes, swatches of pure color, and delicate detail to create his enduring Edenic vignettes.


Neil Welliver paints snow as nicely as anyone since Sisley. With the white froth of his fast-flowing brooks, he almost makes you think the Maine landscape has been smothered in cream.

This mouthwatering suggestion is bolstered by the succulence of the (for him) small oil sketches that are the subject of this fourth exhibition with Alexandre. These have a fresh, painterly directness usually absent in the tight, compulsively detailed, formally closed compositions for which he is better known.

Whatever the season, Mr. Welliver is a devotee of charged light. Even in dense woodlands- a favorite motif- he has the sunlight dapple the mossy ground and the edges of his pine trunks. He is much given to building representation out of perfunctory, almost digital dabs and strokes. But snow defeats a would-be pointillism and insists on rounded forms, which extracts a voluptuous legato from an otherwise staccato brush.

Mr. Welliver is a substantial, original artist who works in terrain similar geographically and stylistically to that of Alex Katz and Lois Dodd, who are his peers. But he has neither the high-octane improvisatory verve of Mr. Katz nor the quirky, wondrous obstinacy of observation to be found in Ms. Dodd. Other painters he resembles, and may have influenced, include Robert Berlind and George Nick, but he equally lacks the uninhibited frankness and compositional compactness of these protégés.

Examination of these sketches, arguably the most likeable of this works, suggests his problem has to do with a kind of mimetic greed: Like another Mainer, Andrew Wyeth, he wants to record every blessed leaf, twig, branch. In terms of pictorial economy, this means missing the wood for the trees.

This proclivity, in a way, is on the other side of the same coin as a horror vacui, a fear of open color, bare ground, ambiguous space. He finds brushstrokes appropriate in scale to each individual form his is painting, then loads the composition to bursting point with these undifferentiated, and perceptually gratuitous marks. The result of the almost tapestry-like evenness of detail and attention is a claustrophobic closure that contradicts the natural order he has taken as his subject.