Tuesday, April 1st, 2003

Pat Lipsky

Elizabeth Harris Gallery
529 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
March 13 to April 12, 2003
Tues.-Sat. 11- 6PM

L.I.C.K. at LTD Fine Art
46-44 11th Street
Long Island City, NY 11101
March 21 to April 17, 2003
Wed.-Sun. 12-6PM

Pat Lipsky Blue Border 2002 Kremer and Guerra pigments and oil on canvas, 70½ x 68¾ inches this and all images, Courtesy Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York
Pat Lipsky, Blue Border 2002 Kremer and Guerra pigments and oil on canvas, 70½ x 68¾ inches this and all images, Courtesy Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York

Pat Lipsky’s two current New York exhibitions remind us that the art of painting is invariably about itself before it is about anything else, about its own making, and its own cultures. Lipsky’s basic strategy appears, at first glance, to be remarkably simple: vertically aligned bands of color (she works in oil pigments) are broken mid-way through the canvas and are met by another band of contrasting or similar color. This compositional structure is further contextualized by subtle framing devices: these include outlines that read as colored rivulets between the dominating color bands, and, more often than not, an outer edge which surrounds the entire painting, exposing yet more outlining and then the raw canvas itself. Once she has set up this basic rhetorical structure, Lipsky proceeds to explore any number of compositional and color issues. Adherence to this particular scheme provides a clue to Lipsky’s artistic enterprise: she is as much concerned with the potentialities of painting, and the opportunity to expose those possibilities, as she is with any signature style. That there is something almost stubbornly procedural about her art is readily apparent: I’m actually reminded of Francis Bacon, who once described the process of painting as a battle between the artist and the inevitability of the medium itself. The happy revelation of these new shows is that Lipsky has uncovered the vocabulary in which her attitude toward art making can find free reign.

Lipsky’s recent paintings have much to say about the cultural contexts of color abstraction. In terms of their scale and physical presence they are certainly situated in the traditions of New York color field painting, yet in their process-based exploration color and composition they establish a dialogue with earlier strains of modern painting, recalling Mondrian, and the purists of Paris (we might observe here that Ellsworth Kelly has taken these same sources in an entirely different direction). That this dialogue with the history of abstract art can be found in her works helps explain the complexities that enter our viewing experience once the strategies of her compositional arrangements have been assimilated. The painting Blue Border (at Elizabeth Harris) typifies the various strains of this conversation. Blue Border has all the object presence of a flag painting by Jasper Johns, yet it immediately reminds us of the rigorous, almost “objective” attitude toward color and surface to be found in early modern abstraction. As such, Blue Border functions as the hinge for Lipsky’s paintings in both shows, announcing her commitment to both variation and difficulty. In its scrupulous deployment of blues, reds, and whites, Blue Border is a virtuoso display of painterly discipline, and it is the most insistent and formal work to be found in either show. Blue Border prepares the viewer for the range of themes that Lipsky explores in her investigations of composition, pictorial space, surface effect and palette.

In the paintings Black Covert and Syncopated Black (at Elizabeth Harris) Lipsky sets up a beguiling array of blacks, pale pinks, lavenders and greens. The regular march of black bands across these canvases heighten the luminescent delicacy of the paler colors, and, for this reviewer, conjured associations of Chinatown at dusk. More typically purist in their incremental discourse about composition and color are Jump In (at Elizabeth Harris) and True Lad (at L.I.C.K.LTD). Jump In takes the balancing act of bold yet discrete blues, reds and whites about as far as it can go, and it comes off handsomely. In True Lad Lipsky takes a similar palette in an entirely different direction: calibrating an arrangement of whites (and their various overtones) with red and blues, the space of the painting opens up, reminding us (not without a touch of sly humor) of her versatile knowledge of the ways of picture making, and her ability to throw us off balance just when we might have figured we were on solid ground. In Blue Grey Not Touching (at Elizabeth Harris) Lipsky arranges a far closer group of color values, and, in this variant approach, the imagery takes on another quality altogether, conjuring the effect of subtle colors levitating before our eyes. Lastly, there are the group of paintings, including Blues, and Red Isn’t Blue (at Elizabeth Harris), and Chartres II (at L.I.C.K.LTD), which I think of as nocturnes. In these canvases Lipsky lets down her guard a bit, exploring an internalized realm of colors juxtaposed with blacks. While we may miss in this group the obvious struggle we find in her more meditated and risk-taking color essays, they open up yet another approach to the possibilities of space and light.

In these two shows, Pat Lipsky demonstrates not only that New York color abstraction is alive and well, but that it is still possible to pursue a challenging individual vision for painting while making art that is fresh and of the moment.