Saturday, October 1st, 2005

Emily Berger & Iona Kleinhaut: Paintings and Works on Paper and Farrell Brickhouse:Goodbye Tribeca – The Hudson Crossing Series

The Painting Center
52 Greene Street
New York NY 10013
212 343 1060

September 6 – October 1st, 2005


The Painting Center’s two exhibitions in September found common ground between three very different painters in a painterly approach to abstraction.  Emily Berger and Iona Kleinhaut divided the large space in the gallery into a 2–person show of paintings and works on paper. Farrell Brickhouse took command of the project room with a suite of smaller paintings and works on paper.

Emily Berger & Iona Kleinhaut

Iona Kleinhaut Indian Wells 2005 oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
Iona Kleinhaut, Indian Wells 2005 oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
Emily Berger Paris 2005  oil on linen, 22 x 30 inches
Emily Berger, Paris 2005 oil on linen, 22 x 30 inches

Emily Berger’s paintings free-associate with the grid – at least as a starting point.  But her exploration of form is actually more vested in an architectural urban esthetic. The evidence for this is found in the density and uneven distribution and proportions of her lines. Berger also, quite literally, throws a curve in here and there to further disturb any sense of order. Her application of materials sublimely captures the messiness and accompanying noise and motion of a large city (generally New York; more specifically, Brooklyn where the artist lives and works).

Iona Kleinhaut explores a very different range of forms in which the structure is generically organic. Her shapes suggest everything from micro-biology to floral themes to landscapes to celestial references. An oblique comparison to Terry Winter’s paintings from the 80s and 90s pops up in some of these pieces. This is evident in the way the distinctly organic-like forms float over richly painted and colorful surfaces. Then there is the contrast between the loose handling of paint and color with the solidly, structured compositions which places Kleinhaut in full possession of the picture plane.

What unites the artist, most obviously, is the physicality of their materials.  While providing a pleasant esthetic experience this approach more importantly serves as a driver for defining both the subject matter and content of the work. Both artists derive visual energy for their paintings by pitting their application of the medium against the somewhat formal structure of their individual subject matter. For Berger, this is manifested in her animated sense of cityscape, whereas for Kleinhaut, it is found in her non-narrative yet strong references to organic nature.  Ultimately, both artists stay within the realm of the abstract by not accessing their corresponding subject matter directly which also leaves understanding of the work open to elucidation.

One other similarity is the quality of drama both artists employ, primarily in their use of light and shadow.  For Berger’s works on paper, a personal, rather moody, even somber ambiance is established.  However, just the opposite occurs with her paintings which are lighter, colorful and more open while still maintaining a personal touch. In Kleinhaut’s case contrast is skillfully woven into the color. The resulting drama in her pieces is also personal but less direct, more complex and occurs on a grander level.

Each of these artists presented work that is powerful, engaging and demanding of a generous measure of ‘breathing space’. For this reason the exhibition might have been better served with a bit less work.  Still, the range of proportions for these pieces mitigates any over-crowding while also providing dimensional variety.

Farrell Brickhouse

Farrell Brickhouse Crossing Red 2005 oil on canvased panel, 16-5/8 x 19-5/8 inches
Farrell Brickhouse, Crossing Red 2005 oil on canvased panel, 16-5/8 x 19-5/8 inches

Although Farrell Brickhouse went solo in the smaller project room space, his work nicely compliments the show in the larger room. The connection is his overt use of the medium where paint handling and form are virtually indistinguishable from each other in most of these pieces. Subject matter primarily consists of generic iconic images which leave interpretations open. But the imagery takes a back seat to the paint handling which really defines the subject matter and content for this work. There is nothing preconceived about these paintings; rather, they seem to have been born through years of experience mastering painting. From this perspective the forms are more ‘found’ through the act of painting than merely depicted.

For their size these diminutive paintings manage to pack quite a punch.  This is obvious in the raw paint handling and crude rendering of the forms.  But a closer look reveals a counterpoint subtlety of color, surface and blended contrast which, combined with the former treatment, is equally responsible for the impact. The result plays directly into understanding the content by establishing a self-possessed authenticity; a real visual experience devoid of illusions or depictions that is only possible through experientially-created abstract art. The ability to pull this off truly designates Brickhouse as ‘a painter’s painter’.

The Painting Center’s Project Room space is long, narrow and characteristically difficult to work with. In response Brickhouse has included small to medium paintings including a single scatter-gun arrangement that comprises 12 small pieces grouped tightly together.  Given the constraints and the minute sizes of these pieces this is quite effective, especially given the artist’s desire to capture a bit of a studio visit ambience. The presentation reads as a singular installation and contrasts sweetly with the other paintings in the show.