Friday, March 1st, 2002

Penny Kronengold: Swimmers & Other New Works at First Street Gallery

526 W 26th Street
Ninth Floor
New York, NY 10001

March 5-23 , 2002
Tuesday-Saturday, 11-6

Penny Kronengold Swimmers 2: City College 2001, oi1on linen, 18 x 26 inches
Penny Kronengold, Swimmers 2: City College 2001, oi1on linen, 18 x 26 inches

This afternoon I was utterly seized by an artist previously unknown to me. Penny Kronengold’s unassuming, modestly scaled bathers, starting the last week of their short run at the First Street Gallery, are a must-see.

In reproduction she is likely to seem safe and familiar, but in actuality these paintings and drawings reveal themselves to be daring and at the same time highly accomplished inventions. These scenes, mostly of public swimming pools, are perceptually fresh and authentic, and at the same time deeply invested with painterly awareness of their genre’s forbears. Kronengold’s handling seems to marry southern color and northern drawing. There is voluptuousness in the paint that is not allowed to end there, because there is a corresponding intensity of determination to cram a maximum of observation into a highly energized, restricted space. The obvious points of reference here are Bonnard and Kokoschka, but the sense of structure and pictorial logic encountered in Kronengold stretch much further back in the annals of Western picture making. The color is a joy, precisely because it is not that corny useless craftsy thing, “pure joy”. On the contrary, color is marshaled as a means of drawing, a means of defining form and exploring space, but in an unpedantic way.

Kronengold is fond of a whole battery of painterly devices which, in lesser hands, can breed affectation: sgraffito, exposed canvas, the complementary bravura effects of a dried up and an overloaded brush. But her every mark actually seems to add up to something of pictorial importance. In this respect she is rather like the great Irish painter – I’m writing this note on St. Patrick’s Day – Jack B. Yeats.

Incidentally, having extolled the perceptual basis of her liberties with color and form, I have to say that the most satisfying pictures, to my eye, are the boldest. With two paintings of the same scene hanging back to back, the one completed first is accomplished, for sure (it’s on the invitation cover, reproduced above) but the freer, more daring repeat of the same composition marks an explosion of painterly pleasure.