Wednesday, February 06, 2008

nick maione at stella's

Stella's Cafe in Collegetown is currently showing a series of abstract drawings by Cornell student Nick Maione, up through February. Their clusters of marks, although expressive, are typically spare, with most of the action going on in the middle and the white of the paper playing a major role. Colors and mediums are restricted as well: black ink along with red, black, and bluish-grey marks in pastel, conte crayon, and oil paint. The sheets are all approximately the dimensions of a magazine or notebook page and usually panoramic rather than upright. All of this helps to give both the works and the show unity, although not at the expense of variation and surprise.

The art here recalls that of several well-known twentieth century modernist painters. You can see traces of Arshile Gorky's fine, fluid black lines here rendered in pen. Although less graceful, Maione's cover space in a similar way, sometimes loosely outlining chalky, cloudy forms and at other times going their own way. The use and frequent repetition of abstractly calligraphic and scrawl-like marks calls to mind Cy Twombly. Philip Guston's late work - with its limited palate, coarse, cartoon-like images, and darkly humorous narrative - is another likely influence. Contained in Maione's more or less abstract spaces is an unexpectedly personal figurative vocabulary: maps, landscape, weather, fluids, bottles, body-parts.

The pieces lack individual titles, which makes it difficult to refer to them specifically. It is tempting for this reason and because of their (above-mentioned) consistency to treat them as parts of a single work, perhaps even sequential like a book. Nevertheless, several pieces stand out.

One piece does so with a horizon-line, a sign of landscape and deep perspective in a show otherwise dominated by a shallow, screen-like space. (Along one stretch, it is an actual line, while elsewhere it is merely implied.) It gives the surrounding lines and shapes strongly figurative associations that they might not have otherwise. Patches of horizontal gray strokes resemble choppy water. A rocklike island-bump in black and gray pokes up towards the left while a hollow red circle balancing it on the right could be a sea-monster. It trails tendril-lines downward diagonally to the right; these end in smaller circles. Surrounding the beast is a halo of black ink and gray chalk marks.

A pair of Maione's pieces bares ironic resemblance to certain ones by the Abstract Expressionist painter Adolph Gottlieb, in particular for their compositions dominated by central circles floating in mostly empty space. In many of Gottlieb's canvases, these are counterbalanced by gestural paint-tangles evocative of stormy weather. In Maione's case, weather comes in the form of cartoon raindrops (for some reason these are mostly upside-down, as if gravity were reversed). In one piece, there are two loosely-rendered balls
red dripping downwards on the left, gray on the right supported by a tripod-like bit of scaffolding drawn in black crayon. The other piece has a red ball in the same position but it is thinly colored and smudgy rather than boldly drawn. A cluster of drops balances it to the right.

Needless to say, a coffeehouse is not the most auspicious place for concerted art-viewing. Still, Maione's work is definitely worth checking out for anyone interested in gestural abstract drawing that is playful as well as rigorous.
There seems to be little else like it in Ithaca and it may be telling that it is the work of a student rather than a member of the gallery establishment. (Incidentally, the drawings were made during time spent away in Barcelona.)

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