Bold Sense of Place: Helen Cantrell at The Lionheart Gallery

The Lionheart Gallery
Aug 20, 2017 8:15PM

by Douglas P. Clement

As Richard Diebenkorn’s paintings became more abstract—the difference between the “Cityscape” series of the early 1960s and his “Ocean Park” series from about 1967 to the mid-1980s—the shedding of representational qualities in favor of a color field sensibility and lyrical abstraction added to the emotional impact of the canvases.

While viewers once appreciated Diebenkorn’s transfiguration of Matisse’s genius, they could now intensely feel the psychological and societal importance of coastal geography, even as Diebenkorn only suggested it through planes of blue, green, grey and tawny hues.

Old Lyme, Conn., artist Helen Cantrell was influenced early and indelibly by Diebenkorn and the Bay Area expressionist realist painters, but the four paintings she exhibits in the Summer Group Exhibition at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y., reflect a mature artist painting in a style uniquely her own.

Birdwatching, Helen Cantrell

Bridgeport Winter, Helen Cantrell

Cantrell calls her style expressionist gestural, and certainly the masses of thick paint, untamed brushstrokes and free-form spatterings underscore her stylistic allegiances.

Overarching her devotion to this freedom, however, is a sort of raw realism and an effort—eminently successful—to paint scenes at once representative of a place or idea and equivalent to most intense version possible of the subject.

“Glasses” is a riotous meditation on the primacy of its subject, eyeglasses, in this case left behind on a book amid a Diebenkornian background of intense color fields. Glasses figure prominently again in “Birdwatching,” this time left idle on a book open to a page delineating types of songbirds.

Glasses, Helen Cantrell

New England Roadside, Helen Cantrell

“New England Roadside” is a classic country scene—with the color and gestural volume turned all the way up—and “Bridgeport Winter” excerpts a scene from Connecticut’s often troubled Park City that is almost Hopperesque in its embrace of the bleakness of blanching sunlight and aura of absence in a scene where there should be vitality.

According to her bio on The Lionheart Gallery’s website, Cantrell was born in Chicago in 1947, moved to New York City in 1968, where she was a typographer, and has lived along the Northeast coast in the decades since then. She was elected a member of the Silvermine Guild of Artists in 1998. Cantrell’s work also includes large-scale woodcuts.  

The Summer Group Exhibition continues through September 1.

The Lionheart Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information and directions to the gallery at 27 Westchester Avenue in Pound Ridge, N.Y., visit or call the gallery at 914.764.8689.

The Lionheart Gallery