Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mostly Abstract

This is a review I wrote before starting this blog. The show, which is in downtown Ithaca, is up until the 27th. I've added some relevant hyperlinks and done some minor editing. Otherwise, the piece is unaltered.
Abstraction, while hardly new, plays an important role in contemporary art. The prints in the show "Mostly Abstract", currently on display at the Ink Shop, make a good case for both the vitality and diversity of contemporary abstract art. As indicated by the title, this show does not (at least when taken as a whole) take a purist approach. Abstraction here provides a set of metaphors for understanding the world around us. This impression is fostered by the human scale and considerable craftsmanship of all of the works, as well as the overt iconography—which never seems forced or incoherent—used in some of the pieces.

The most immediately striking work, due to its vivid colors and energetic forms, is a set of monoprints by Alan Singer. Singer uses a technique that combines digital and hand-painted (analog) mark-making. Twisted grid shapes, ribbons, polyhedra and other hard-edged forms are combined with dynamic scrawls and painterly smoke. His color is vivid: yellow, blue turquoise, pink, red, black, and yellow ochre, among others. Evocative of music (one of the pieces is dedicated to composer John Adams), these prints could also serve as stage sets for a futuristic play. My favorite is "Event Horizon" with its yellow and black striped "tree" and (elegant) cacophony of forms.

More subtle, but just as strong, are woodblock prints by Takuji Hamanaka and black and white intaglio prints by Nicholas Ruth. Hamanaka contributes three "Map in the Sky" pieces, which have turquoise, green and yellow backgrounds respectively. These reference airline route network maps, with their independence from earthbound geography. Also by Hamanaka is a "Zigzag Spiral", composed of a series of bandage like strips which get progressively darker as they move inwards. Ruth's pieces also look to the sky for inspiration. Each of his pieces uses three similar or identical cloud motifs, stacked vertically, as a point of departure for various improvisations with tone or line. Since the two larger pieces are displayed in the Ink Shop's main working space, and the three smaller ones in the separate (smaller) gallery space, one is encouraged to go back and forth, studying these variations—both subtle and not so subtle.

Also interesting are a series of carborundum collographs by Tarrant Clements. These pieces, in color and/or black and white, combine lattice-like shapes with softer plant or animal-like forms (sometimes this distinction is blurred). They suggest a melding of flesh and bone, or plants growing on an architectural structure. Carol Acquilano's work, while somewhat similar to Clements', is more varied in color, texture and pattern. Often, this variation occurs within a single piece, with sometimes arbitrary results. Her strongest piece is her simplest, the descriptively titled collaged carborundum print "Green Red".

Takamune Ishiguro's work has the opposite difficulty from Acquilano's, it seems too safe. His etchings combine scratchy dark marks with subtlely colored backgrounds of greens, blues and browns. The nuanced buildups of light and dark tones, while skillfully executed, do not command as much attention as other works in the show. Perhaps his most interesting piece is "Some Fragments VII-A", with its suggestion of a paper sheet (within the sheet of the print itself), its upper-right corner curling.

This is a strong show, both for its individual pieces, and for its juxtaposition of differing artistic sensibilities. Even the relatively weak work does not derail the efficacy of the whole. People unfamiliar with contemporary abstraction will get a useful, although (inevitably) incomplete overview. Those more knowledgeable will be able to appreciate the combination of historical awareness and individualistic approach evident (to a greater or lesser extent) in each of these prints.
I'll try to get pictures of some of these artworks up.

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