Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Sex With Strangers: Sandi Slone at Allegra LaViola

Sandi Slone: Quick Mettle Rich Blood at Allegra LaViola Gallery

September 5 to October 6, 2012
179 East Broadway (between Rutgers and Jefferson Streets)
New York City 917-463-3901

I first saw paintings by Sandi Slone in 1983, when she was living in Boston, and I’d been invited by some Boston artists to visit and critique their work. Slone had recently taken her MFA from the Boston Museum School, and was still teaching there.

Sandi Slone, Vulcan Love, 2012. Oil, acrylic, mica on canvas, 46 x 43 inches. Courtesy of Allegra LaViola Gallery
Sandi Slone, Vulcan Love, 2012. Oil, acrylic, mica on canvas, 46 x 43 inches. Courtesy of Allegra LaViola Gallery

Her paintings were huge and abstract, with large, soft fields of color; mellow reds and oranges either predominated or simply struck me with especial force. I thought them very beautiful (that being an adjective one could still use on such work in those days).

In 1984, Slone moved to New York. Twice, in the 1990s or maybe in the next decade, I saw more of her work in Manhattan galleries.  On the first occasion, her paintings were hung on three sides of a space, in the center of which, on the floor, sat a pile of sand and/or detritus. The second time, the paintings were only semi-abstract, with little, cartoon-like human figures floating on their edges.

I felt that these embellishments reflected insecurity, that the artist seemed worried that her work might not be “edgy” enough to attract attention by itself. Such embellishments aren’t unique to Slone. In the recent past, I’ve seen one well-reviewed show of abstractions to which lit-up neon tubes had been affixed.  Another artist had semi-abstracts mounted on hanging glass panels, because (according to the label accompanying them) she hoped that this would make them appear “relevant in the environment of today’s art world”.

I believe that today’s “relevant” may well be tomorrow’s redundant, and that any artist is better off trying to inaugurate trends than to follow them. That is why I was so pleased to find that in her latest show, Slone has largely (though not entirely) abandoned embellishments, and determined to tough it out with pure painting. The new paintings are more modest in scale than those I saw in the 1980s; but they’re also more aggressive, even offensive, with a savage voluptuousness that borders upon barbarity.

Colors are louder and shriller: reds, purples and oranges still dominate, though some pictures (especially less successful ones) are mostly blues or greens. Technique involves pouring and swabbing streaks of paint onto horizontal canvases, then manipulating the paint by lifting the canvases one way and then another, so that, besides vehement swirls and sinister puddles, there are long, straight drips, often running toward all four sides of the canvas.

Poured paintings, of course, are nothing new. Pollock worked on the floor, and has had his followers, but in the decades since, many more abstract painters have kept their canvases upright and applied paint entirely or at least partially with a brush – following the alternative example of de Kooning, that other Pole Star of abstract expressionism. It is therefore unusual to find an artist who perseveres on the road less traveled, and rarer still to find one who pursues it as passionately as Slone does in this show.

Some paintings here are overdone, with splashes and puddles dissolving into an inchoate sea of paint.  Other paintings, where coy little figurative elements still peep out around their edges, look underdone, unfinished.

A sizeable handful, though, are real winners.  One is Sex with Strangers (2012), whose pouring creates a wonderful swimming, soaring impression by contrasting thin with thick paint, and reds, whites, and pinks with purples and blues. Also dynamite is Vulcan Love (2012). It is mostly burning, boiling lava-like red, with complementary dark speckles and complementary smears of black at the bottom, blending with the red into brown.

A third, nearly perfect painting is Further Out (2011), which is organized into three horizontally-streaked, drifting areas of color – soft blues and purple at the bottom and a central dreamy cloud of white, above which a blazing red sunset waits.

Sandi Slone, Sex With Strangers, 2012. Oil, acrylic, resin on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Allegra LaViola Gallery
click to enlarge
Sandi Slone, Further Out,  2011. Oil, acrylic, mica on canvas, 62 x 62 inches. Courtesy of Allegra LaViola Gallery
click to enlarge