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At Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, paintings for a bright, beautiful season under threat

Wilhelm Neusser's "Picnic (2038)."Wilhelm Neusser/Courtesy Abigail Ogilvy Gallery

In 1565, landscape master Pieter Bruegel the Elder charted the year in six paintings. One of them, depicting April and May, went missing a century later. Wilhelm Neusser titles his show at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery “The Sixth Season,” after that painting and our own lost spring.

The German-born Neusser, who moved to the United States in 2011 and lives in Somerville, is a deft landscape painter: An acute colorist, inventive and freehanded with paint application, and attuned to the dramatic implications of space. Some works in “The Sixth Season” are undeniably ominous, yet they all hum with the joy of their making.


In “Picnic (2038),” the artist etched a chain link fence into the wet paint with a stylus, trapping us at the surface with our brightly striped picnic blanket, separated from the glimmer-glass water of Fresh Pond. It’s like being stuck inside, gazing out. A lockdown.

Other simply delirious paintings are a balm in these fractious, wearying times. The “Forsythia” canvases buzz with complementary, high-octane yellows and blues; pollen explodes in splatters over an intoxicating florescent haze. In the cranberry bog painting “Bright Horizon (2001),” fuchsia, rose, and cherry red dots amass like confetti over a sheen of blue water, with a single harvester in yellow waders facing the distant shore.

Wilhelm Neusser's "Bright Horizon."Julia Featheringill Photography/Courtesy Abigail Ogilvy Gallery

Distance is merely a framework in paintings such as these — you may not want to leave the party happening on the canvas’s surface. But “March (2031)” fully embraces the implications of deep space, and there’s no party here. The scene is apocalyptic.

Again, colors complement each other — the greenery of a river delta pops sharply against a seething orange sky. Neusser deifies that sky the way Hudson River School painters did. But here, rather than opening celestial vaults to shine beneficent light, it breathes demonic fire.


Wilhelm Neusser's "March (2031)."Julia Featheringill Photography/Courtesy Abigail Ogilvy Gallery

Yet there is delight in the way the green cuts against the orange, in the flutter of foliage, and that makes this dire scene all the more sweet. Bruegel’s 16th-century paintings celebrate agricultural cycles; Neusser’s 21st-century paintings are more exigent, reminding us of all we love, and all that can be lost.


At Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 13. 617-820-5173, www.abigailogilvy.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.