Criticism
Monday, November 10th, 2014

Diagrams Intuited: Bettina Blohm at Marc Straus


Bettina Blohm at Marc Straus
October 26 to December 12, 2014
299 Grand Street (between Allen and Eldridge streets)
New York City, 212 510 7646

Bettina Blohm, Procrustian Physics, 2014.  Oil on Linen, 68 x 84 inches.  Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery

Bettina Blohm, Procrustian Physics, 2014. Oil on Linen, 68 x 84 inches. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery

Bettina Blohm, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, moved to New York City in 1984. Currently she divides her time between New York and Berlin, maintaining studios in both cities. This, her first exhibition with Marc Straus Gallery, coincides with a landscape-painting survey in Germany, which originated at the Kunsthalle Bremen and will later travel to Städtische Galerie Bietigheim-Bissingen. Although Blohm’s paintings often appear to be completely abstract, she actually makes many drawings in the landscape. Her paintings comprise loosely geometric shapes and patterns. Working intuitively, the imagery evolves over time, through repeated addition and subtraction of paint. The resolved image is not anticipated. Grids spill and torque their rigidity in favor of what amounts to a visually kinetic structure. Procrustean Physics (2014), for instance, comprises a black-blue ground ostensibly over-painted with an impure white diagonal grid. The diamond shapes formed between the lines are themselves adjusted with over painting such that the lines of the grid that picked up traces of blue appear at moments in front of, and at other moments behind, what become segments of more proximate color pushing forward as if through a net. The grid is subject to an occasional doubling, with an extra line running alongside at an angle, like an after-image.

Bettina Blohm, Great Escape, 2014.  Oil on Linen, 68 x 84 inches.  Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery

Bettina Blohm, Great Escape, 2014. Oil on Linen, 68 x 84 inches. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery

Great Escape (2014), which like Procrustean Physics measures 68 x 84 inches, has black curved strokes that change direction from one square to the next appear to possess a restless energy — like a flickering diagram. In counterpoint, the squares each tilt at a shallow angle, maintaining the rhythmic shifting of both space and surface. Matisse certainly comes to mind in the red, black and white color range and the way in which the black curved lines recall the body, albeit indirectly. The degree to which decorative effect and broken pattern proliferate changes from painting to painting. Sometimes the linear element becomes an improvised knot, as in Small Snag (2013), where white painted lines are inconsistently opaque across black to produce subtle grays as well as white, tracking the artists’ movements across the surface. Diagrams of abstract thought come to mind that in the perceiving invoke different emotions.

In fact, two works on paper come from a 2014 series titled Diagram. Diagram 1 comprises a number of vertical lines that are bisected with irregular circles toward the lower edge of this horizontal format. A similarity to musical notation connects this pictorial composition to musical composition as does the pulsed repetitions of frame echoing verticals and obliquely oriented disks. Acrylic, charcoal and ink are used in this work and acrylic and charcoal in Diagram 10, completing the notion of an importation of traditional means from drawing to painting and from painting to drawing. Altogether, it is true to say that Blohm has no problem moving between a non-representational mode and its opposite, although it is the former alone that is present in this current exhibition. Interchanges between figure and ground and an evolving variety of similar forms both make for a concise vocabulary that repays close attention to her work.

Bettina Blohm, Diagram 1, 2014.  Charcoal and ink on paper, 15-3/4 x 19-5/8 inches. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery

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