Friday, December 1st, 2006

Eleanor Wood: Mixed media on paper

Don Soker Contemporary Art
49 Geary Street
San Francisco
415 291 0966

November 1 to December 14, 2006

Eleanor Wood Shifting Borders:  Realignments, Fall 2006 series (no: 13) mixed media on paper, 8.5 x 8.5 inches Courtesy Don Soker Contemporary Art
Eleanor Wood, Shifting Borders: Realignments, Fall 2006 series (no: 13) mixed media on paper, 8.5 x 8.5 inches Courtesy Don Soker Contemporary Art

Minimalism strikes me as being quaintly obsolete, deriving from a formalist aesthetic that indulges in endgame polemics, arrogantly defining itself as the logical terminus of all previous painting and as the ultimate position that painting can take. As an artist with reductionist inclinations how do you engage in this severe legacy other than by proving yourself as a yet further reduction of your predecessors?

Eleanor Wood whose work is on display at Don Soker Contemporary Art in San Francisco has skirted the periphery of Minimalism for her entire career, fine-tuning her obsessive, hypersensitive and exquisite miniature technique. In 2002 she moved from her native England to California, the displacement serving as catalyst for a body of work that demonstrates a departure from her previous practice, and rift with Minimalist orthodoxy.

Joinery, grid-work, weaving, sewing, scarification, and wound dressing are among the material associations the work evokes, a virtual compendium of fabrication techniques. The insistent reminder of age and wear, as if the images had somehow been allowed to mature and steep over lengthy periods, as if what we see were merely a vestige of the result of corrosion or patination (see no: 6), evokes a poignant sense of reflection, memory, and loss.

The fragility and apparent age of these images tempers their insistent sense of order, order that we sense rests on implicit but radical contradictions.  Take the  downplaying of the relationship of  image to the paper’s edges, or the deliberate uncertainty about what constitutes the image. This involves an unexpected union of the negation of geometric hierarchy common to Abstract Expressionism, with the precision, and compactness of Minimalism.  One might expect the pervasive grid format employed by Wood, albeit subtly subverted on occasion, to brace itself against the edges of the support, to assert its completeness and finality. However her work defies this expectation, placing the colored rectangles in singles or couples far enough from the paper’s edge as to suggest that any proportion, other than the insistent but nuanced proportion contained in the grid, is secondary. Each work embraces a sense of infinitely plotted spatial extension, while at the same time instantiating a finite, precise, insistent, rigidly contained, eye-catching, hypnotic singularity. Arguably the most significant proportion is the relative thickness of the image, built out of multiple layers, to the scale of its dimensions. If these measured 8.5 x 8.5 feet instead of inches the colored rectangle would be at least two inches thick to retain this proportion!

The intensely saturated rectangles that at once appear to hover above the surface, (notice the soft, shadows surrounding the rectangles in no: 13), while simultaneously appearing to be woven into it, (notice the grid-work of strips of wax punctuated with pinholes in 20) ultimately seem like manifestations of an infinite, slumbering latency. It is as if Wood is evoking a limitless spatial continuity, a type of invisible mathematical progression that becomes periodically visible through a temporary window-like opening.

The assertive color saturations are new to Wood’s previously monochrome repertoire. They are achieved through painting washes of watercolor onto the reverse side of absorbent paper. Waxed Japanese paper is then glued over the front surface as a barrier on top of which intricate layers of oil pastel are applied. The effect is one of finely calibrated pulsations of light and matter that mirror, on a microcosmic level, the tension between enbedment in and flotation above the paper support of the central colored rectangles.

Ultimately it is not the sense of contradiction that animates the work so much as an alternating visual current. This constantly switches between the centrifugal sense of expansiveness and indefiniteness inherent in the colored rectangles and their insistent symmetry and eye-catching centripetal focus. The work suggests that the universe, both internal and external, emerges and dissolves with respiratory regularity, and in this sense it is actually breathtaking.