Summer’s Waning Trysts

A Village café offers nature’s creatures during latte breaks from the laptop

In just a few weeks the fall art season will begin with exhibitions in Chelsea and elsewhere, culminating in the much anticipated November opening of the Museum of Modern Art renovation.

In the meantime, gallerists are frolicking at the seashore and interesting work can only really be found in alternative locations. Sarah Kemphaus is exhibiting oil on wood paintings of baby bunnies, ducks, mice and guinea pigs at Doma Café in the West Village.

A recent New Yorker, Kemphaus has taken on some difficult technical challenges juggling the representational needs of her subjects with her colorist focus.

Young animals are by definition really soft and innately visually interesting. They are the essence of cuteness. Sometimes, the cuteness factor goes overboard for Kemphaus and there are lapses into minor caricature, a danger that goes with the territory. Mind you, caricature isn’t a bad word for the younger generation, but with caricature it is a “go big or stay home” deal.

Yet, in more than three-fourths of the exhibition, careful observation of her subjects, attention to brushwork and the successful visualization of the texture of soft fur in many different lights take us in another direction. To successfully skate these edges, Kemphaus presents her young creatures as just that — young animals, in isolated formats on a plane of supporting color, simple enough that forms verge on abstraction in handsome smoky color.

Kemphaus knocks at the door of Chardin and Manet, with her live animals and a contemporary color sense. Real mystery opens up in works such as “Lilly,” “Levon” and “Annabelle,” where brushy strokes define forms that conversely dissolve in tone. The just-enough anthropomorphization of her critters, simple structural geometries and wonderfully eccentric forms go for a drive in “Jessica,” “May Angus,” “Dolores,” “Alice” and “Samuel.” In these piece, jewel-toned color, smudged edges and a growing understanding of the power of darkness pushes Kemphaus into the realm of Donald Sultan and early Ellsworth Kelly.

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