Friday, December 1st, 2006

Pat Lipsky at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, Barry Goldberg at Howard Scott Gallery, Kim Uchiyama at Galleria Janet Kurnatowski

Pat Lipsky Proust's Sea 2006 oil on canvas, 81-3/4 x 62 inches Courtesy Elizabeth Harris Gallery
Pat Lipsky, Proust's Sea 2006 oil on canvas, 81-3/4 x 62 inches Courtesy Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Amid today’s unlimited range of styles and endless combinations of media competing for art world support,  one of the great innovations of early Western modernism, Abstract art, continues to garner attention, evolve, and in many cases deepen in the hands of some of its current practitioners. Such is the case of veteran abstract painter Pat Lipsky whose career spans three decades marked by explorations in both abstraction and representation, and as demonstrated by her most recent aptly titled exhibition” Color Paintings” she continues to advance the issues of her work.

The grid based format of the nine human scaled paintings in the exhibition is becoming a recognizable trademark structure for this artist, placing her in the company of such reductive, contemplative painters as Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin. Five vertical columns of varying widths are sub-divided at midpoints that in cross section appear as ascending and descending steps, which dip down or rise up in the center. In most cases three narrower columns frame two wider central columns that contain her carefully arrived at, in-between, colors within the ten rectilinear blocks, or segments, created by the divisions. The symmetrically deployed colors allow for a myriad of associations such as landscapes viewed through a colonnade, renaissance facades, geometric patterns, ornamental motifs and blocky figures.

In “Proust’s Sea”, 2006, two central columns feature colors that recall sky and earth are framed by three columns of colors that recall earth and sea. Naming the blues, greens, umbers and teals become a fruitless exercise because those names are never adequate to describe how the colors behave in their arrangements. Subtle hue shifts occur within similarly colored segments . One is apt not to notice her mastery of color because it all seems just right. The blues, at once radiant and atmospheric are activated by the somber tones of browns and greens. Credit is due to the handling of her edges for the additional vitality of the work. One could journey quite far simply following the lines, spaces, smudges and blurs that separate the segments. The surfaces are delightfully polluted with traces of life, dust hairs, blobs of dried paint which underscores the fact that these are hand made paintings, and although they may make allusions to an ideal they are full of the irregularities and imperfections of life.

Kim Uchiyama Untitled 2006 oil on Canvas, 48 x 40 inches Courtesy Galleria Janet Kurnatowski
Kim Uchiyama, Untitled 2006 oil on Canvas, 48 x 40 inches Courtesy Galleria Janet Kurnatowski

Kim Uchiyama and Barry Goldberg also make work that participates in a late modernist conversation, however, while Uchiyama explores the poles of expansion in her brightly colored banded abstractions, Goldberg mines the poles of reduction in his spare oil and encaustic canvases.

In her current exhibition titled “Strata”, Ms. Uchiyama’s landscape based abstractions come in a portrait format of stacked horizontal bands of colors. Muscular strokes of thick oil paint, in varying widths, span the surface and are interrupted by intervals of segmented color blocks. Her expressive paint handling brings to mind the built up surfaces and rough edged strokes of Sean Scully; however, the space she evokes is decidedly more referential. In  “Untitled “ 2006, saturated hues of red yellow and blue are tempered by occasional off whites and lighter blue hues. Thin lower bands of dark colors seem compressed by the weight, heat and vitality of wide red and yellow bands in the upper layers, serving as an apt metaphor for the effects of time upon landscapes and civilizations.

Barry Goldberg’s  paintings at first seem to be primarily about ground. However, in most of the works on view from 2006, a thin colored frame of buttery encaustic color superimposed upon a field of oil color.  This thin frame seems to delineate a figure within the field thus unsettling and in some cases reversing the reading of what is figure and what is ground.  “City Square in the Rain” 55 x 42inches, brings to mind the rounded shape of a subway car window. A two inch wide blue encaustic stripe circumnavigates the canvas; it’s position, an inch or so from the edge creates an outer frame of remaining olive green ground. Inside, an atmospheric grey blue area recalling a foggy, rain soaked window is streaked with occasional vertical lines, traces left by the sharp edge of the tool as it pulled successive layers of oil color down the surface. At once, alluding to rain as in the title, these hair like marks also describe with considerable clarity the process of how the work was made. The muted color grounds are often activated by the presence of the brightly colored encaustic frame. For example, in “Rysa Szpara” 2006, a scarlet-vermillion frame enhances the reddish identity of the brown field and adds warmth to the cool cream color of the top field.

These three diverse painters made me think of something Agnes Martin once said, “Anything can be painted without representation.”