Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Frances Hynes: North Light: Recent Paintings at June Kelly Gallery

February 27 – March 31, 2009
591 Broadway (between Houston and Prince streets)
New York City, 212-226-1660

Frances Hynes Ocean III 2006. Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery
Frances Hynes, Ocean III 2006. Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery

Water has been a significant motif in modern art. Frances Hynes’ mysterious and evocative recent paintings at June Kelly provide a phenomenology of its common manifestations – river, ocean, lake – and recall some prominent predecessors. Often associated with escape from the stress of everyday life, water inspires contemplation. It can be sensual, as in the broken reflections of Monet, or appeal to spiritual transcendence, as in the seascapes of Mondrian. Hynes’ paintings, with their seductive surfaces and underlying grids, allude to both. They also have much in common with the more intimate compositions of Paul Klee, which weave image fragments into their material structure. Hynes, in fact, compares her process to weaving, and similarities abound in paintings such as Summer Place: To the Islands (2008), where sketchy boats and distant houses emerge, as though through fog, from a texture of marks that create a luminous surface. There’s weaving not just in the layering of strands of paint but in the larger alternation of outlined rectangular forms with blurred rectangles of pigment, and even in the overall sense of reverie associated with the repetitive process of building the surface.

While Hynes alludes to Maine (and her works also recall the sea paintings of Maine artist William Kienbusch), along with Long Island and Delaware County, her works, composed from memory in the studio, are synthetic images, documenting not the particulars of place so much as the ways these particulars are turned and developed in our minds. There’s casual openness to Hynes’ abbreviated depiction; her snippets of detail might be the schematic notations we carry in memories, just specific enough to restore a remembered state of well-being. Washes and markings of muted pinks and blue-greens generate light, so that these floating traces seem projected on screens.

But these pleasurable effects and allusions to leisure activities bear an undercurrent of introspective solitude. Hynes’ predominantly cool, understated colors lend an undertone of isolation, even melancholy, to these northern landscapes, which often focus on islands and cliffs. By relaxing conventional standards of realistic description, Hynes makes her images immediately accessible to the mind and its fluctuations of mood, and enables herself to explore the modernist vision common to the painters that inspire her (to whom one should add the early Philip Guston). In Ocean III (2006) small strokes of pigment lend substance and specificity to a vast expanse of water, much as Mondrian’s more impersonal marks evoke the sea’s surface in Pier and Ocean (1915). Like his, Hynes’ abstraction is rooted in the tangible space of lived experience. Island Place (2008) is more dramatic: one of the strongest paintings in the show, it launches a wedge of architecture into a dense, blossoming field of blue and pink reflections. The wall of the foreground building, merging with the surface of the water, flattens its expanse and takes us both up above, and deeper into, its painterly depths.

In previous exhibitions, Hynes has used poems by Mark Strand and Seamus Heaney to introduce her work. Her search for a stripped-down language of representation – hardly leisurely in its ambition – stakes out a domain of meaning common to poetry and painting, where details of everyday life can assume new configurations in the mind. There reverie, engaged in the texture of sounds or pigments, can succumb to the rhythms of inner impulse, and images can emerge, energized by memories and desires.