A Pleasant Look Back At a Quirky Time


Photo contributed “Sycamore Drive-In Restaurant,” 26x40 Oil.

There is something comforting about Jeffrey Neumann's oil and pastel paintings now on view at the upstairs gallery of  The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY,  in a solo exhibition called “Vanishing America.” Like long lost friends or your favorite childhood meal, they conjure up days and times past.

Neumann has traveled across the country many times, and he invokes the buildings — small-town movie theaters, restaurants and bars, motels that used to line highways in gaudy, neon-lit invitation. He catches the eccentricities of the colorful, quirky, free form architecture that gave way to the sameness of the country today: McDonald’s restaurants, Waffle Houses, strip malls, big box stores that give the nation a monotonous sameness. 

Neumann paints from memory, and he is interested in structures, with their angles and outlandish signs. Rarely are their figures in his work: the buildings and businesses seem to exist in a world without people, although cars appear sometimes. The technique is meticulous, the affect rather flat, like Hopper. And the oils, probably because of the vibrancy of their colors, are much more interesting than the watercolors. Most of the pictures have been included in other Neumann shows, but that may be what makes them seem like welcome friends.

“Sycamore Drive-In Restaurant” is Neumann's most detailed painting. Cars are parked in front, their noses aimed at the building. A Christmas wreath hangs on the side, melted ice covers the parking lot, exhaust is visible from the rear of one car. It is busy, and as cheerful as Neumann ever gets. You expect to see someone emerge from a car or the restaurant at any moment.

“Dog House” delights with its sign: hot dogs on the left, a dachshund with wagging neon tail on the right. “Twilight Cafe” is the most Hopper-like, with a long, green Cadillac convertible parked across its front. And there is something oddly moving about the man walking in front of an adobe-colored bar and lounge called “Saints and Sinners.”

Jeffrey L. Neumann: Vanishing America continues at The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY, through Jan. 10, 2016. Admission to the gallery is free whenever the theater is open.