Saturday, November 1st, 2003

Shirley Kaneda: New Paintings

Shirley Kaneda: New Paintings

October 5 – November 3

535 West 24th Street
between 10th and 11th Avenues
New York City
212 223 2227

Shirley Kaneda, Passive Vigor, 2007. Oil on canvas, 70 x 60 inches, courtesy of Danese Gallery.

Shirley Kaneda, Passive Vigor, 2007.
Oil on canvas, 70 x 60 inches, courtesy of Danese Gallery.

Shirley Kaneda’s paintings feed on contradiction, ambiguity and surprise. They are lively and even decorative but also deadly serious and tightly controlled.  They are beholden to modernism – especially, as she indicated in an earlier exhibition, to Jo Baer, Frank Stella and the Paris-based American painter, Shirley Jaffe – but Kaneda’s paintings have post-modernist aims. They anticipate every question, are willful and dryly calculating in their effort to define the historical moment and are also didactic, indulgent and earnest. These are all good things.

Kaneda grounds the work in a reach back to late modernism – a generally agreed upon historical location – and through impersonal labor-intensiveness.  The catalogue for the exhibition has an opening photographic image of the artist holding her wrist while she places a brushstroke with the other hand.  In an interview in the same publication, she states that she is interested in the “feminine”. Her praxis, based on a social reading of the feminine, is remarkably similar to Emily Dickinson’s: imaginative freedom within extreme restraint. The laborious working process illustrated in the photograph points to the studio as a theatre of self-identity.

The imagery that she works with is plucked from the virtual world of the computer and processed through its myriad resources, then transferred by traditional mechanical means onto the canvas. The overall effect is that of the canonical white rectangle submerged in a bitform approximation of liquidity. As the long virtual brush dips into the digitalized ground, computerized bubbles float to the surface and colors appear.

In Elegant Disorder (2007), for example, the flat puckered wave starting on the upper left modulates from fuchsia to lipstick red. As the eye moves through the space, an apparitional architecture of broken plastic bubbles takes on color before dissipating. Kaneda also modulates the paint to produce her version of aerial perspective, a kind of background fuzziness upon which the foreground “events” can float. Another section a little further down the canvas, has the kind of painterly move we associate with Jonathan Lasker. A flesh-colored relief area, built up in broken pieces of paint, has a course of linear illusionistic brushstrokes running over its dried excrescence, obviously brought in a later point. 

Elements are brought together during slow improvisation, culminating in the achievement ofall areas being of equal interest, a goal Kaneda appears to share with Ingrid Calame, who was showing nearby.  It also reminded me of the current exhibition of mostly late de Kooning’s that is currently up on nearby 21st street, where the master displayed his pictorial aplomb in bestowing a legacy of abstracted broken synapses depicted by the strokes and scrapes of Windsor Newton hues and frosty whites within the picture plane.

Kaneda occupies similar territory in replicating a kind of loopy wasteland.  Her wholesale stylization of this same painted space implicitly criticizes painterly abstraction. Kaneda’s paintings use sweat equity to underline her belief that loose gestures cannot convey authentic expression. Multiple, contradictory meanings are deliberately built into the work.

I found Passive Vigor (2007) – the sparest and most classical of the group – almost beautiful. An icy white atmospheric band opens up the center, fading to a pale lime sherbet on the right and faded grape stain on the left.  Kaneda’s strange paintbox ukiyo-e broaches hang near the perimeters. The weather here is cold, but not crystalline, and melting. It seemed most clear that this painting was constructing a moment.  All the paintings are like battles won through sheer determination. Their saving grace is that that is not the point.