It could be Anywhere, USA, this small town clustered around the railroad tracks. Thin pencil and ink lines define the loose splashed of watercolor forming a railroad station, church and homes with the barest of detail. The sky looms ominously in bold horizontal strokes. Slicing through the picture is a seemingly endless row of utility poles accentuating the country road that leads out into desolate farm land and a similar town.
Peaceful, but stagnant.
This is the work of Edgar Nye, a local artist whose watercolors and oils are on exhibit at the Adams, Davidson Galleries. A student at the Corcoran - and then later in England and France, where he succumbed to the cubist influence of Picasso - Nye returned to Washington in 1920 with a new approach to his work and his country. He decided to focus his artistic eye on the simple rural countryside and ordinary lives of the industrial workingman. (There are no workingwomen depicted in this show.) Except for a few studies of field and factory workers, Nye painted desolate scenes: country roads, deserted farmhouses and uninhabited towns. He had no time for sentimentality or romanticism in his art.
When he did paint humans into his works, he reduced them to undetailed suggestions. Two farmhands toil away with their scythes in his "Early Harvest." You don't exactly see the pain of years in their faces or carriage, but through Nye's hand and eye you feel it, as a dab of dark brown on the faces turns into fatigue, defeat, malaise and resignation. No existential dilemmas here: just the pursuit of a subsistence wage to feed, clothe and house the family.
By contrast, there is a lightness and spontaneity to Nye's watercolors, partly because he rarely made preliminary sketches for them. Especially his seasonal studies of Rock Creek Park. White snow, laced with long and loose strokes of gray, certainly conveys the proper barren chillinesss.
The color and climate of "Rock Creek, Early Autumn" shows two women rejoicing in the beauty of the day. Fallen leaves and ground cover are cascading strokes of greens, browns and gold, with autumnal shades reflected in the changing trees. The women are barely discernible, their skirts and blouses simply bare splotches of gray and white, their heads tiny flesh-toned dots. CAPTION: Illustration, A DETAIL FROM EDGAR NYE'S OIL "EARLY HARVEST."