Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Nancy Haynes: Dissolution at Elizabeth Harris Gallery

February 12 – March 14, 2009
529 West 20th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-463-9666

Nancy Haynes Syntax 2008. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Nancy Haynes, Syntax 2008. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Over the last three decades, Nancy Haynes has developed a body of abstract work that utilizes a painting’s inherent materiality to cause a surface to shift from being a plane that is looked at, to becoming an area that is peered into.  Visually, her work calls to mind Gerhard Richter’s mechanized methods of applying paint to a surface and isolating brush marks, along with Brice Marden’s minimalist sensibility and handling of edges.  With her current show, “Dissolution,” Haynes presents a series of paintings that she refers to as “dark matter.”  In these paintings, darkness becomes a facilitator of light as Haynes employs a palette of terrestrial ores, impenetrable blacks, arctic blues, and steely grays to subtly shift, float, dissolve, and illuminate, all the while coaxing contemplation.

The velvety surfaces of Haynes’ small rectangular works are constructed by overlapping nuanced fields of color thinly painted with a wide, flat brush and straight movements.  In most cases, the color fields hold a directional light that transpires either from left to right, right to left, or from the center outward, with their brushed margins stopping just short of the painting’s edge.  In this way, a void is suggested while the veil of the hovering chromatic plane thwarts one’s entrance.  The effect is similar to peering into a Ganzfeld experiment or a dense fog that has trapped in it the ambient hues of the oncoming night.

In works like Shadow Syndrome (all works 2008), where a crisp glacial blue illuminates from right to left over a sea of piney grays, and Syntax where a smoky green-gold haze fades in and out of a richly saturated background, the separation between the planes of color is more pronounced making these works, at first glance, visually more striking than others in the gallery.  However, this is not a show for the impatient viewer and when given more than a glance it’s easy to become infatuated with the delicate tonal shifts of leaden grays in a painting like Liminal Monologue or the dark light emanating from the temperature shifts in the black on black painting, Echo.

As one grasps the combination of flatness, space, and light in Haynes’ paintings, the subtleties of her sophisticated palette and tonal gradations reveal a seductive luminosity.  Through this examination one’s mind empties out, leaving oneself in a contemplative state.  Or perhaps better put, one becomes fully engaged in the moment– peering simply into the painting’s surface while marveling at the unique and nuanced light held by each work.