Bobbie Oliver Paintings at Valentine
September 25 to October 18, 2015
581 Woodward Avenue, between Menahan and Grove streets
Ridgewood, 718 600 9417
The recent arrival of Valentine Gallery to Ridgewood adds to a growing gallery scene there that includes Famous Accountants, English Kills and Outpost. Fred Valentine, himself an accomplished painter, organizes a program of exhibitions with a bias toward painting, and this, the first exhibition in his new space, presents new abstract paintings by Bobbie Oliver. Though the space is modest in scale its high ceilings readily accommodate larger works. The largest painting here is Teal Daylight (2010) at 63 x 68 inches (it is also the earliest work here) while the smallest, a dark green painting on a sidewall of its own, is Untitled (2015).
Greens are often regarded as difficult colors in abstract painting, but not so for Oliver, nor for the dedicatee of one of the paintings, the much missed Hudson of Feature, Inc. It was in the window of Hudson’s gallery that I first saw a painting of Oliver’s in 2012, a large triptych that recalled the touch and directness of Chinese landscape painting, even from across Allen Street. So, Forever, for Hudson (#1) is a good place to begin contemplating Oliver’s work. It is characteristic of her oeuvre, technically and chromatically. Paint is applied, often wet into wet, and then manipulated using a variety of different methods, some discernable, some not. For example the darker green shape to the left of center appears to mirror its upper and lower halves vertically, though not exactly, as a result of folding of the canvas. Unusually, in this instance, it is a cut piece from a larger work mounted on a smaller canvas, exactly to size. Oliver always preps her canvases with a couple of coats of gesso as this enables a specific surface quality that she desires, and that makes the paintings distinct from color field stain painting that tended to exploit raw canvas. What she achieves is something akin to the immediacy of gouache or watercolor. Avoiding the potential grandiosity of gesture, Oliver imbues the painting with a practical sense of responsiveness, both to the materiality of paint and the fluctuating light of color.
In Teal Daylight, pouring, and blotting off, with newspaper draw attention to the surface of the painting in the way condensation does to a windowpane. Again, Oliver eschews grand sweeping gesture in favor of slow spilling movement, distributing paint compositionally in ways that determine a fluid, shifting pictorial space. The openness of method does not diminish the mystery of the final configurations. There is closely restricted color range, but it would be misleading to think of this as a monochrome painting as there is nothing anti-compositional about the piece. The shapes and tonal play recall shadows and reflections, or clouds and sheets of rain. But these shapes are not literal representations of things, eschewing the tradition of perspective and its assumptions.
Another recurring color choice for Oliver is the red/blue/violet of Under + Over (2012). Acknowledgment of the edge of the painting by cutting off shapes adds an almost geometric contrast to the flows of color across the rectangle. The looseness of painterly facture is impressive when considering how precise the relationships end up being. There is a rightness or dynamic balance that arrives like the sound of a chord in relation to its constituent notes.
We have another opportunity to view Oliver’s paintings at Hionas Gallery in a show that opened October 8 where she has been placed in an interesting pairing with the sculptor Alain Kirili. Both artists bring to my mind the legacy of Jackson Pollock: Oliver, by focusing on the fluid materiality of paint and its possibilities for pictorial space; Kirili by drawing in space in a way that is linear, punctuated and cursive like the drawing in late Pollock.