The Painting Center
52 Greene, 2nd fl
New York NY 10013
March 1 – 26, 2005
The two main types of lava that flow from volcanic vents are “Pahoehoe,” consisting of ropy strands and fluid looking whorls, and “Aa,” which is more crumbly and chunky. The terms are familiar to geologists and people who live in volcanically active regions, but painters might also do well to appropriate these Hawaiian words whose meanings apply perfectly to the two main branches of thickly-painted pictures. Aa, the crumbly one, would equate to works such as Anselm Kiefer’s Bohemia Lies Beside the Sea at the Metropolitan Museum, while Pohoehoe, with its fluidity and undulating surface, is epitomized by Colleen Randall’s works currently on view at The Painting Center.
Randall clearly loves paint, and lots of it. Her abstract and enthusiastically impastoed paintings are made with numerous layers that progress from thin washes, to thicker, more buttery strata as the works develop. Even her works on paper are caked with a generous helping of once liquid acrylic; they look like ejections from the business-end of an active artistic volcano. The energy and gusto of her images indicate that Randall truly is a creative fountain to be reckoned with. The Painting Center’s press release states that her work is “rooted in the abstract tradition,” which is true. However, the roots here reach deeply enough through the tiers of that tradition to draw upon the wellspring of Impressionism and the images relate as much to the dappled-light of Renoir’s Le Moulin de la Galette as to anything post-Cubism.
Randall’s splashes of light and her thick paint give her canvases the look of liquid tectonic quilts pieced together from crisp, bright colors that temper one another in concert. Sometimes runny, sometimes stringy, elastic or viscous, her paint is applied and manipulated in a nice variety of ways. One or two dominant, usually cool, hues give each work an overall color-statement, while hotter shades simmer in the interstices of the surface, punctuating the pictures and threatening to bubble forth depositing a new layer of color. The most interesting pictures include one or more conspicuous forms that stand out like crystals amid still fluid magma.
Such contrasting forms and impending eruptions of color are the results of a creative process that mimics natural actions. Randall’s images appear to have developed over time like the sedimentary deposits and alluvial fans they echo. During her additive procedure,the dramatic weight and volume of the paint itself becomes the most important aspect of the works, serving as a surrogate for any depiction of recognizable objects or locations. In a surprising twist, the massive pigment load and heavy textures often become atmospheric—a remarkable quality here because it is more often associated with thin, diaphanous paintings; and made more surprising by the fact that it imparts the works with a feeling of spirituality despite their connections to earthly, geological activity. The beauty and impact of her most successful works grows in parity with the amount of paint applied.
But aesthetic weight and actual weight are not necessarily related and Randall’s paintings do get bogged down at times. Some of them become murky and unreadable due to an excess of competing colors, while others suffer when the power of individual marks is lost in a cacophony of overindulgence. This diffusion of power due to the presence of extraneous imagery is what Randall should most diligently avoid. Though the commonly quoted art school adage “less is more” does not readily apply in Randall’s case, she should nevertheless remember that subtraction is as much a part of the painting process as addition. If Randall can mine even deeper into her artistic depths and turn up the heat on her editing process, there is no doubt she will continue to unearth painterly gems and ascend painting’s Richter scale while transforming cold oil paint into molten emissions from her creative core.