Art Watch: Stella’s last Dance

Mark Dance at Mala Galleria

"Our Brandywine Roots" opened the First Friday to a packed crowd of art admirers, at Mala Galleria in Kennett Square.  Featured painters include Mark Dance, Karl Kuerner, Robert B. Dance, Robert Dionne, and sculptor Alejandro Lemus. Two of the artists represent another Brandywine tradition of families of artists, father Robert and son Mark Dance.

This is the last gallery show for Stella Scott, who has owned and managed the gallery for the past five years. Scott will be leaving the area at the end of December. Corien Siepelinga is taking over Mala Galleria as of January 1st 2018. She is an artist and art teacher from Willowdale Academy.

"Our Brandywine Roots" is an exceptional show, and a great testament to the artistic quality that Stella has always represented, as well as the plethora of creative talent that abounds in the Brandywine Valley.  For artist Mark Dance, the show marks his first gallery show in over 15 years, and we all hope this is the first of many more to come.

Pennsbury Autumn by Mark Dance on exhibit at Mala Galleria

Mark Dance comes from a very long line of professional painters, from early British and American colonial portrait painters, to the exquisitely detailed paintings by his father Robert B. Dance. The elder Mr. Dance learned his craft at The Pennsylvania Museum of Fine Arts, under the direction of artist Henry Pitts, who is credited with first coining the phrase "The Brandywine School."  While Mark grew up most of his life in North Carolina, where his father works and lives, Mark was influenced throughout his life by the artists of the Brandywine School, N.C. Wyeth in particular.

For the past twenty-some years, Mark Dance has been an active member of the Young Friends of the Brandywine Conservancy.  He has been proud to work on supporting and protecting the lands of the Conservancy, as well as the collection of the Museum.  In a recent interview with Mark Dance, he said, " I want to emphasize how much the Conservancy and Museum have meant to me. They are a special place and I’ve considered it better than art school. How lucky we are to have them here so close!"

Red Bridge Farm by Mark Dance on exhibit at Mala Galleria

The show title "Our Brandywine Roots" is very apt, as in the case of Mark Dance's beautiful sketches and oil paintings, they reflect and respond to the beauty and rhythms of our local Chester County environment.  Mark's painting style is that of the American Impressionists, whom he has studied and enjoyed most of his life. American Impressionists that Mark Dance admires, include, Daniel Garber, John Henry Twachtman, and Childe Hassam, and he was also inspired by the paintings and writings of Edgar Alwin Payne, a famous Western landscape painter of the early part of the 20th Century.

Last week I visited the Museum of American Art in Washington D.C., and has the pleasure of studying several rooms of American Impressionist art, which made me keenly interested in revisiting Mark Dance's paintings at Mala Galleria.  Dance shares a remarkable passion for certain lush secondary colors, as well as an energetic application of measured brushstrokes and strong composition. If I saw one of Mark's paintings, like "Red Bridge Farm" or “Pennsbury Autumn" in a museum, I would need to read the artist tag to know that these were not painted by a Garber or Twachtman in the 1890s .

In Mark Dance's larger paintings, you can see the many ways that he works on the canvas to bring the image to life and "coax out what I can". He says he "abuses the canvas" by sanding off painted areas or scratching into the glazes. Like many of NC Wyeth's paintings, which he has admired all his life, Mark leaves many dabbled areas of raw exposed canvas, that provide a dance between the applications of gorgeous color and the texture of the canvas. Mark Dance's painting style differs strongly from his father's work, which is also exhibited at Mala Galleria this December.

Robert Dance's detailed realistic nature paintings are rarely exhibited as they generally sell before he finishes them. His works are highly collected throughout the country, particularly in his native North Carolina. Mark Dance always knew that he was a painter, but he also knew that he couldn't "do what he (his father) does with paint.. so I went the other way and went loose." Mark Dance's paint application is "loose", but his strokes have intention and are deliberate more than spontaneously expressive; a seductive combination of passion and restraint.

I encourage anyone who loves painting to visit Mala Galleria this December and take a closer look at Mark Dance's paintings.  His love of the Brandywine Valley, its nature, history and its art all reverberate in each astonishing painting.

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About Lele Galer

Lele Galer is an artist who has chaired numerous art shows, taught art history and studio art, public art and has chaired, written and taught the Art in Action Art Appreciation series for the UCFD schools for the past 12 years. She worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and wrote for the Associated Press in Rome. She has been dedicated to Art History and art education for most of her adult life. Lele and her husband Brad own Galer Estate Winery in Kennett Square.

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