Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Ronnie Landfield & Peter Reginato: Color Coded

Heidi Cho Gallery
522 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011

October 14th – Nov 12, 2005

installation shot, Color Coded at Heidi Cho Gallery
installation shot, Color Coded at Heidi Cho Gallery

These artists have known each other for over thirty years. The exhibition is a combination of intensely colored paintings and sculptures that embody different world views. Ronnie Landfield attempts to transcend the material world by avoiding representation while Peter Reginato celebrates an abstract materialism. The title of the exhibition, “Color Coded”, is a pretentious way of saying, “The artwork is colorful!” This reduces the art to interior decor. It was a mistake for the artists to permit such a crass packaging of their work.

In his writings about his own art Ronnie Landfield tells us it is about the expression of transcendent, universal themes, and his tools are “color, space, and form.” On occasion his paintings are mildly suggestive of the meeting of earth and sky. His work has been consistently non-figurative for many years. These seemingly improvisational paintings are filled with subtleties and suggestive of large open spaces.

Ronnie Landfield Angels in the Morning 2002  acrylic on canvas, 55 x 108 inches Courtesy of the Artist
Ronnie Landfield, Angels in the Morning 2002 acrylic on canvas, 55 x 108 inches Courtesy of the Artist

Ronnie Landfield’s impersonal formalism avoids specificity of place and time. Clearly they are not figural in any way, a tribute to the artist’s discipline and strong commitment to what he believes paintings should be about. Certainly they emphasize such formal elements as color and form. They are an examination of color relationships, which have existed throughout the painterly tradition. The drama they generate is solely due to the clashing and melding of beautiful colors in a palpable non-space. They are also about universal and religious themes, endless vistas and imaginary spaces, manufactured and natural light, the timeless image of the meeting of earth and sky (which is a favorite theme of Helen Frankenthaler, another great Lyrical Abstractionist), and fragile and ephemeral textures generated by overlap and juxtaposition of colors.

Landfield’s disciplined focus on the formal qualities of painting perhaps limit the power of these works to generate metaphors that complicate the viewing experience as it occurs through time. However, these images consistently maintain a level of non-specificity, while at the same time they are redolent of the outdoor world. I did not feel like I was looking at an interior at any point. The open sky always felt present. We are left wondering about the where and when of these interactions of colors and forms in space and this universalizes the language of abstraction. There is an inherent contradiction between the artist’s emotional connection to these colors and tones, the intricate meanings they have for him and him alone, and his avoidance of the anthropomorphic, the blatantly symbolic. Unlike a different branch of painterly abstraction, we don’t play guessing games with these works. We don’t feel the need to discover repressed or distorted signs and symbols. Landfield puts all of his faith in color, color as a vehicle of communication.

Peter Reginato’s sculptures are chock full of individual parts, welded together and painted with bright colors or mid-tones. The artist is an avid collector of lunch boxes and clocks and his love of the minutiae of the material world shines through. The horizontally oriented floor sculptures are a combination of the spread out innards of a busted clock and an exploded Joan Miró painting. Reginato’s vocabulary of forms grows out of his deep appreciation of the Moderrnist masters. A number of Peter Reginato’s sculptures were unforgivably placed on a shelf above a desk at the back of the gallery. This limited the viewer’s ability to see them in the round, the way they should be viewed. Although the coloration of these steel works is completely seductive, sometimes you felt like the sculptural forms and the colors laid on them were warring with one another. The floor sculptures could feel compressed, like the multiple layers, the overlapping of forms were not articulated enough. The originality of these floor sculptures is obvious though.

The viewer is initially disoriented by the weird gravity they exist in. How should one position oneself in relation to the sculpture? By not setting up a clear relationship between sculpture and viewer, the viewer ends up meandering about the work, focusing and refocusing on the colors and forms but never quite sure of which way is up. This completely undermines all Modernist notions of the isolated sculptural object. So the inherent contradiction in this work, the artist’s obvious appreciation of Modernist pods and squiggles and his desire to disorient us through an entirely intuitive building process makes these sculptures as strange as they are beautiful.

“Salmon Hill” is a successful sculpture from 2003. The multiple sections are welded together in such a way that they form a cone or tepee shape. The dark spaces visible through the myriad of forms cut out of the larger pieces of steel are mysterious and suggestive. The coloration of this sculpture is subtle and smart.