Sunday, May 1st, 2005

Art on the Line

Galeria Janet Kurnatowski
205 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn

April 29 – May 28, 2005

John Cox JuJu Scramble acrylic on canvas, 12x12 inches  Courtesy Galeria Janet Kurnatowski
John Cox, JuJu Scramble acrylic on canvas, 12x12 inches Courtesy Galeria Janet Kurnatowski

Painting is most exciting when it engages your grey matter as much as your guts. It’s amazing that an object on a wall – little more than a poster really – can get a mature adult’s mind racing and body trembling. At Galeria Janet Kurnatowski, five artists trace the line linking mind and body in a group exhibition called Art on the Line. Together they illustrate a continuum between the strictly methodical and the largely improvisational use of line in painting. The exhibition’s linear logic intelligently mirrors the structure of the paintings themselves.

Over on the left-brain side is John Warren. His drawings, graphite on paper, suggest an interest in physics. One drawing, Billow, describes the movement of a single line between moving poles crating a butterfly effect. In quantum mechanics, a single point in space is impossible to locate definitively despite the fact that the trace of that point is forever suggesting the point’s existence. So it is with Warren . His drawings chart motion without revealing what moves.

One step left of John Warren in brain logic is Nick Knight. Knight makes theory of Warren ‘s hypothesis in an oil on panel entitled Taxonome IV. Taxonomy is the science of classification and Knight’s painting is strictly classifiable only as itself. In an accompanying drawing, Knight sets the equation for his painting’s algorithm determining which lines will move which way right down to color coding. Knight’s delicate oil line is thin enough and controlled enough to frustrate but his dexterous handling liberates instead.

Nick Knight Taxonome IV  oil on panel, 16x16 inches Courtesy Galeria Janet Kurnatowski
Nick Knight, Taxonome IV oil on panel, 16x16 inches Courtesy Galeria Janet Kurnatowski

Back toward center away from the analytical left is John Cox. Cox suggests motion rather than charting it. His paintings are impressionistic. This might sound perverse given their appearance but in the company of Warren and Knight, that’s how they look. Cox striates his acrylic surfaces vertically and pulls color along them in bands. This creates a strong sense of movement, as with Warren , but seems to represent only a small part of a larger movement intuited. Cox’s paintings feel gleaned in the sense that impressionists gleaned their compositions from the fleeting effects of natural light. Impressionists were caricatured in their day as overly analytical for their “scientific” approach to painting. How things have changed.

The right-brainers of this bunch are Mike Miga and Elia Bettaglio. Miga is closer to center, but far from his above mentioned colleagues for two reasons: he hints at line’s potential for illusionistic description and he allows chance products of his process to determine his imagery. In El Protegido, he struck his fragile encaustic panel and used the cracks as a point of departure for the composition. The result is a web of thin lines, some fissured, some raised, which begins to hint at the emergence of discrete relational forms. This is a development none of the other painters in this somewhat austere show permit themselves with the outstanding exception of Elia Bettaglio.

Bettaglio is the deviant of the bunch. In his triptych of ink drawings, Bettaglio encourages line to define form not contingent on the nature of line itself. For his pals in the show, line is largely used to explore concepts. Bettaglio uses line, in the sense that Matta or Gorky used line, in service of his imagination. Mechanical mages materialize in little interconnected colonies set off expertly against the white of the page. Escalators are incorporated into his stingy world alongside faces and trees. It seems literally twisted, an image of a three dimensional space wound round itself. Bettaglio offers a hypothetical vision of Warren ‘s algorithm, a possible world emergent from the movements of an arbitrarily defined equation and an excellent bookend to the show.