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Dr. V. Roger Lalli

Watercolors @ the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society

Dr V. Roger Lalli’s work, currently presented at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, is an opportunity to see all of Buffalo’s major tourist attractions in photorealistic, site-specific splendor. Lalli, a commercially trained artist and longtime teacher in the Buffalo school system—his doctorate is in education—is by every measure an impossibly precise talent, compelled to paint every last blade of grass in the Botanical Garden’s lawn, every wrought-ironed interstice in the fence that borders the Buffalo Club. In a style called “pristine” but which rarely rises above pedestrian, Lalli in retirement paints eight hours a day, aligning each carefully placed stroke against the other until the image is resolved into a thoroughgoing likeness of the photograph that generated it.

Certainly an ambitious task, Lalli’s epic series “My Buffalo,” begun in 1985 when he was 62, presents crisply luxurious vistas painted with such extraordinary presumption of “rightness” that not one brick is missing, and not one element of the scene is at variance with the next. (In watercolor this is an especially remarkable accomplishment.) Nevertheless, such an exacting working method has the effect of visually stultifying the scene, creating a façade as impenetrable as a postcard.

Contrast the Charles Burchfield exhibition at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, “The Romance of Urban Decay,” depicting the gaunt landscapes, industrial byways, and familiar downtown vantage points during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s in Buffalo. Again, Burchfield, a trained commercial artist who worked for years designing wall paper for the Birge Company, continued the exacting color regimes that were standard in the commercial art world into his working methods for painting in his studio. Again, like Lalli, he painted primarily in watercolor, but with impressionistic flair created dynamic movement in patterns rather than a static realm of saturation without rhythm or pulse. Burchfield found the land-sky relationship metaphorical and manmade structures elements that could collide or conjoin presenting to the viewer a constantly shifting interpretation. Burchfield creates scenes that evoke a place in time where the particulars are left to the imagination, where color is scripted a role in the theater of landscape Burchfield sets in motion.

Depending on the individual work, Lalli’s fastidious style underscores his devotion to accounting for every last leaf or brick in the inventory and serves to increase over time a sense of sameness in his work. Certain choreographed vantage points in subject matter have made particular paintings significant (in particular The Buffalo Yatch Club, pictured above) and have built Lalli’s reputation internationally as a talented watercolorist. His work is thoroughly satisfying technically as illustration (a magnifying glass is provided next to several of the pieces in exhibition) but as an art viewing experience is not particularly engaging of the imagination.

j. tim raymond

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