Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Bringing the Hand Back into Play: Carolanna Parlato at Elizabeth Harris

Carolanna Parlato: Behind the Sun at Elizabeth Harris Gallery

September 6 to October 6, 2012
529 West 20th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-463-9666

Carolanna Parlato, High Summer, 2012.  Acrylic on canvas, 64-1/4 x 78 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery
Carolanna Parlato, High Summer, 2012. Acrylic on canvas, 64-1/4 x 78 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Carolanna Parlato’s recent show at Elizabeth Harris marked a huge shift in the abstract painter’s working method from the last two decades. Her new palette of warm, murky, and earthy oranges, yellows, browns, and blacks is a distinct shift from the acidic pinks and blues of her previously Pop-inspired spectrum. But more significantly, Parlato’s trademark pours and puddles now take the backseat to various techniques which bring her hand back into play: painting with brushes, sanding areas down, spray painting. Paintings are heavily worked; sometimes, perhaps, overworked.

These kind of accretive and reductive processes mean that the movement of the artist’s hand and speed of gesture are visible, becoming integral to the way this work is read. Where Parlato previously relied on chance in the forms and lines generated by tilting and turning pools of paint on the canvas, in this new work, forms that obliterate and consume each other have dematerialized into a mélange of marks and atmosphere. No longer are organic forms bumping up against one another to claim space and assert their force; instead the artist herself is the force. Fast linear brush strokes parallel the edges of the canvas emphasizing the ubiquitous rectangle of the picture plane. Where she once engaged the painting as an object, she now engages it primarily as a surface.

Previously, each color acted like a dancer in the orgy happening on the canvas. While works such as Dark as Day (all works 2012), Parallel Shift, and Mirage, manage to carry over the wonderfully vibrant, physical force of her earlier work into her newly expanded vocabulary, too many pieces in the show lack tension between the embedded forms. Parlato’s forms were the protagonists of the drama now lacking in her images.

High Summer, one of the boldest and surest paintings in the present show, featured front and center upon entering the gallery, capitalizes on her use of a bright and sunny yellow covering more than three quarters of the surface. But in many works here, orientation seems happenstance. Despite directional drips and splatters, there is lack of gravitational pull. Certain marks seem decorative and inconsequential. These paintings seem more like representations of nature’s aura or the spirit of nature’s energy, rather than the force of nature per se, as the press release assert and many of Parlato’s titles reflect. These pictures feel like a Rothko-making machine has broken down causing errors and sputters of erratic color, leaks and drips.

But perhaps showing the chaotic nature of nature’s process is the strength and meaning in her new mode. In which case, Parlato should be applauded for her audacious move away from her tried and tested pours and puddles. This new visual language has, indeed, the potential to reveal a more intimate conversation about the experience of nature. But in the old Parlato, where a “protagonist” could be pointed out in each image, forces of nature were present and performed in the way the paintings were made. Now, as in Orbit, for instance, the viewer finds that forces of nature are represented rather than performed. Where “forces of nature” follow physical laws, these new paintings do not.

Carolanna Parlato, Orbit, 2012.  Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery
click to enlarge