Guest Curated and Written by Peter Frank
What does abstract painting “mean?” It means as many things as there are artists making it.
Indeed, it means as many things, on all levels of human experience, as there are abstract
artworks. Abstraction is a common language of sorts, a lingua franca, a church Latin whose
dialects are a thousand-fold. And, like language, you can learn it from the outside in, but you
can speak it – you can paint it – from the inside out.
Abstraction is what the camera left behind when it relieved painting of its indexical role in
modern society. Although figurative art has continued its own evolution, and figurative artists
continue to invent new images and new contexts, the artistic reasoning, and feeling, unleashed
in the freeing of painting from mimesis has developed and blossomed for over a century –
really nearly two, if you consider abstraction “conceived” by the emergence of photography ca.
Gesture, pattern, color dynamics (for their own sake), radical composition, evocative texture,
and other self-sustaining qualities of optical presentation comprise the vocabulary of
abstraction. Painters are the poets employing this vocabulary. Their elliptical approach to the
expression of sensation, of emotion, of concept is jealously guarded by those who would assign
the literal to the news headlines – and equally by those who find the headlines themselves a
stimulus to abstract thought. Abstraction does not simply include the mundane in its
consideration, and re-fashioning, of the world, it celebrates the offhand and the minute with
the same zest as it does the grand gesture and monumental purpose.
The half-dozen abstract painters gathered here, represented by works produced in the last
several years, continue a tradition of oblique discourse – of statements made in a manner that
anyone can choose to grasp – begun over a century ago, a half century after photography took
over the pictorial space in our minds. The vast variety of such discourse is barely skimmed by six
artists’ work; but this selection alone presents so many approaches to the assembling of shape
and nuance that we come to expect the unanticipated – what forms, what colors, what
sequences, what clouds of thought comprise these paintings, and by extension comprise
All six painters here inherit the visual framework of their predecessors – abstract and otherwise
– while seeking to build on rather merely recapitulate earlier approaches. Even the most “traditional” work in the show, the eloquently composed, even choreographed, canvases of Gail Winbury, extends the classical underpinnings of mid-20 th century abstraction, giving it a lyricism and wit that Winbury brings together with seemingly little effort. Every stroke and shape, of course, is determined with utmost care, of course, but what emerges is not the
trappings of design but the lineaments of artistic personality.
John Kingerlee, too, composes with care, but does so to provide a coherent substructure ordering a mass of painterly textures and small collaged elements seemingly added like spice, Salting his gritty, luminous fields of
pigment with such foreign, even dissonant, image-materials as postage stamps and magazine
cutouts, Kingerlee calls into question the very nature of abstraction, inquiring as to the limits of
the purely non-objective and the meaning and function of imagery in this context.
Gesturality itself drives Dellamarie Parrilli's and Eric Sanders' painting, even - perhaps
especially - when subject to quasi-sculptural treatment in Parrilli's shaped cut out on poly carbon or hinting
at figurative, or at least referential, elements in Sanders' work. Both painters employ
techniques associated with American abstract expressionism, notably the drip and the push-
pull relationship between figure and ground; and both recognize the need to resolve the
disparities, visual and physical, between these methods. Color would seem the motivation to
paint in both artists' cases, and the range and vivacity of their palettes prove crucial in
attracting even the casual eye. But, again, like the original abstract expressionists - and like
their peers here - Sanders and Perrilli undergird their work with a sense of rhythm and reason.
These paintings contain chaos - in both sense of the word "contain."
Francie Lyshak pushes the gestural approach yet further, formulating monochrome panels
scarified with lines, loops, and other grooves that serve to articulate what would otherwise be
flat, almost un-nuanced fields of color. By marking her surfaces this way, Lyshak emphasizes the
facture of her pigments (and even their supports). She also allows in qualities of appearance -
line, contour, pattern - that pull attention to the dynamic between stasis (in the monochrome)
and mutability (in the gestures).
Michel Goldberg's approach also conflates arguably
competitive factors, in his case between contour - or, if you would, silhouette - and textural
nuance, set off starkly by his evacuation of color in favor of a gray-scale palette, heavy on the
blacker side. Like Lyshak, Goldberg is proposing that we think about what we are looking at in a
non-subjective manner. That is to say, the contents of the work (despite - or perhaps ironically
because of - representational inferences) propose the experiential and even conceptual
autonomy of material and form.
Despite occasional allusions to the "real" world, the paintings comprising "Making the Paint
Dance" are all about their own selves - and/or about the condition of such self-referentiality.
These are presences, not pictures. These are things, not images. These dance before our eyes,
despite their actual stasis, inviting us to regard artworks as things in themselves - albeit things
that have a movement and a vigor to them. However illusory, this energy is contagious. If these
painters make the paint dance, the paint can make you dance.
Making The Paint Dance: Six Abstract Artists of Our Time