Monday, June 02, 2008

Obsessive Reductive

Obsessive Reductive
, my first curatorial effort, opens at the Hogar Collection in Williamsburg on June 13 from 6-9:30 PM. It's a group show with work by six abstract artists, including a piece of mine. We published a catalog for the show, which will be available at the gallery. The show announcement is below; for more information contact the gallery at 718 388 5022 or visit their website.


Catalog essay by Peter Barrett

Michael McCaffrey’s seeming monochromes are in fact compositions of circles, bands, crosses, and targets- archetypal divisions of the square- made of two extremely similar yet slightly complementary colors. The close colors, applied with foam rollers for a blended edge, makes for a subtle but intense vibration that never quite resolves; they insist upon their instability with a quiet force, to the point where one has the feeling that they continue to pulse even in the absence of observing eyes.

Heather Hutchison also divides the square, but in her work the physical depth of the pieces and nature of the materials makes light both the subject and literal object. Appearing by turns natural, like sky over water, then synthetic, like a road or a wall, they become stand-ins for our experience of the sublime: glowing, yet confined within a box; gorgeous, but partially obscured. Her meticulous use of materials, and the balance between the hard-edged (plywood, plexi) and the liquid (wax, paint) allow her to wring a startling variety of experiences from a few elements.

Miki Lee uses a deceptively simple device: non-repeating colors defined by undulating contours. The varied results show just how much energy can spring from adjusting a few parameters: whether they ignore or are bound by the edge of the canvas, to what degree each color is influenced by its neighbors- whether in color, or contour, or both- and where the palette is keyed for each painting all have dramatic impact on the outcome. The result is a dynamic equilibrium- a tension between busy and tranquil- that creates perpetual motion.

Peter Fox has a very different take on the possibility for complexity to emerge from a narrow set of rules. Letting gravity pull his paint toward the floor, he intervenes as it drips, creating fascinating intricacies where hand, accident, and physics all contribute. The resulting layers of color upon color read as a kind of super-dense language, so the paintings seem constructed not just out of paint, but of paint deliberately formed into something more than itself- paint imbued with intelligence, that can form, be, and explain a painting all at once. All of this seething syntactical energy takes place within the boundaries of traditional canvas squares and rectangles, at once emphasizing and superseding the medium.

Cecilia Biagini’s shim pieces use off-the-shelf materials to create playfully elegant forms that transcend their humble origins. She uses the subtle variations in length from shim to shim and a careful awareness of the ways in which the wedges can compound into curves- and also cancel them out- to generate richly varied undulations. The bright, saturated colors she uses seem random up close, but from farther away they create a sense of light across the whole piece, acting as an almost chiaroscuro modeling that gives an added sense of volume and drama to each work.

Peter Barrett works principally in painted reliefs- paintings that edge into the third dimension without becoming fully sculptural. Painted in gradated bands, they simultaneously evoke both extremes of several visual vocabularies: analog/digital, organic/geometric, natural/synthetic, and scientific/psychedelic. By varying the form and color, and moving between symmetry and asymmetry, he creates hybrid forms that push painting into the third dimension without giving up its essential nature; the object and its surface fuse together and become inseparable.

The six diverse artists in this show are all exploring rich post-minimalist pictorial terrain, achieving rich results within narrow constraints. While at first glance all their work appears to share the same cool, detached quality that characterizes much reductive work, upon closer examination all these pieces are clearly made by hand. The resulting imperfections and vicissitudes, rather than hindering the results, are in fact essential to the effect; the handmade surfaces give the works a warmth and depth that belies their formal rigor. By means of such deliberate engagement with the defining tension of painting- between illusion and material- all of the works in this show elegantly subvert initial impressions and thus affirm the continuing relevance of handmade images in the digital age.


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