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Middletown Life

Splendid surfaces and historic buildings showcased in Michael Bignell exhibition

Apr 05, 2016 04:42PM ● By Steven Hoffman

There's certainly no lack of picturesque places in Odessa for an artist to capture, and Michael Bignell has found several of them in his solo exhibit at the Odessa visitors center.

“Beyond Realism: The Art of Michael A. Bignell” opened on March 1 and continues through May 29 on the first floor of the historic former bank building at Second and Main streets. The exhibit fills two large rooms with Bignell's meticulously rendered paintings of Odessa, Lancaster farm fields, bustling New York City and Key West. Throughout, it is his depictions of reflections and surfaces that make his work so immediately appealing.

His recent views of Odessa, however, strike a special chord – especially since you can walk out of the visitors center and see the buildings that you've just seen on the gallery walls. The large “Elite Coach in Odessa” is a tour de force, with the gleaming side of a tour bus parked on Main Street treflecting the 1800s homes across the street. It's a perfect summation of the way history meets today in the carefully preserved downtown.

The docents who lead tours in period costume are depicted in “The Odessa Experience” (2015) and “Odessa Up Close” (2015), which depicts the visitors center with a guide and young students on the sidewalk. The first of Bignell's Odessa paintings, simply titled “Odessa” (2015), captures the scale, history and charm of the town. Prints of the work are available.

While the Odessa paintings have a quiet charm, Bignell's New York City paintings are vibrant depictions of the sensory overload of midtown Manhattan. The gleaming sea of taxis in “Gridlock” (2011), the jumble of competing billboards and standstill traffic in “City Lights” (2013) and the array of colors, shadows and architectural styles in “Fifth Avenue” (2011) are all wonderful.

But Bignell's regional scenes are just as fine. “Downrigging” (2008) was painted on the river in Chestertown, Md., and captures the rigging of tall ships starkly outlined against a pale blue autumn sky. He has a couple of views of teams of horses working on Amish farms, and several portraits of bulky, inquisitive cows in fields. Two of the paintings show the flapping tumult of geese in flight. In “Sassafras Relic” (2013), he shows a tractor streaked with rust and faded by the sun on a farm in Georgetown, Md.

One of Bignell's “Key West Series” paintings, “Robbie's Marine Salvage,” shows the rusty hulls of dry-docked ships as they await demolition for scrap. But he also documents the men who wrestle a living from the sea in Key West. The men depicted in “Eddie” and “Boatyard Blues” are as weather-beaten as their ships.

Bignell will visit the exhibition on May 11 for a discussion of his working methods and a question-and-answer session from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Admission is $10 (free for Historic Odessa Fondation members). The visitors center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Guided tours of the town's historic homes are available. Visit

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