Saturday, November 29, 2008

new states

Fresh Air

by Arthur Whitman

This month's show at the State of the Art features the work of four new gallery members: shimmering, paint speckled tree-scapes by Leslie Brill; carefully constructed city-views by Erica Pollock; mock-religious magazine cutout collages by Andrea King (the only non-painter); and microcosmic abstractions by Ethel Vrana.

Brill, working with oil on various supports, is the most diverse. Most typically, her paintings feature rows of stiffly vertical tree trunks, surrounded by a curtain of free-floating branches and leaves, silhouetted against a hazy sky. Brushstrokes are short and distinct, emphasizing containing forms. Seeing the Forest is a fine example in this mode. Its smooth panel support helps the glowing white background hold its own against the dense foliage. In contrast, the near abstraction Where's There? (canvas) dissolves its forms in a whitish impressionistic haze of densely overlapping strokes.

Junction sticks out for its two pale, gently curving, anthropomorphic trunks, conjoined towards the middle of the bottom edge. The trunk on the left, in particular, evokes a headless human torso, with buttocks and outstretched arms. Its companion to the right is stiffer
more like an arm, slightly bent and stretches towards the upper right corner. Canvas is visible through thinned brownish under-painting, which gives heft to the characteristic fleck-strokes. The background has the usual floating branches over a baby blue sky.

Pollock, also an oil painter, takes the street-sides of New York and San Francisco as her main subject. Intricate, puzzle-like arrangements of light and dark characterize her best work; here shadows aim to take on a life of there own, separate from the bodies and buildings that cast them. Although often fascinating, too many of her large canvases suffer from distracting brushwork
sometimes over-ostentatious (e.g. the cut-off lower bodies in Crossing Shadows), other times also without meaningful direction, as in the large, shadow-crossed "empty" spaces that fill much of her work here.

Two small oil on panel pieces are exceptional. Alley Shadows, in particular, is a gem of machine-like precision. Although impastoed
like all of Pollock's work here the brushwork is uncommonly quiet, rhyming with its containing forms rather than sticking out. Like an archetypal Pollock, it shows a passageway in sharp perspective, flanked by buildings - here abstract, anonymous and overgrown with purple shadows. The squarish Side Street might match Alley's impersonal perfection if not for its two focal cars, which seem messy and human in comparison to the towering buildings.

King's glossy, lurid magazine cutout collages form a series. "Ignoring...Pluto's recent demotion" (according to a written statement), each personifies one of the nine planets in our solar system. Loosely echoing the traditional Greco-Roman religious symbolism of their namesakes (excepting glam nature goddess Earth), they re-imagine idol-worship though the lens of contemporary pop sensibility. In this, her work echoes that of distinguished figurative collagist Hannah Höch. The angular facets and abrupt shifts of perspective are in a broadly Cubist idiom. Androgyny and multi-racial hybrids prevail. The work is playful and loud.

Uranus stands out for it effective use of complexity. (Mars and Pluto, evidently more masculine types, are relatively stark.) The sky god's face combines the eyes and forehead of an Asian woman, a light-skinned nose, and a dark-skinned mouth and chin (black and white), with a grin revealing a metallic tooth. This composite is flanked on both sides by long black dreadlocks and crowned by a row of (b&w) female dancers, arms outstretched. His/her arms are tinted green and hold up a silver horn. The background is a dizzying but solid mélange: lurid red tomatoes and watermelons, lilacs bushes, birches, miscellaneous plant-life, more dancers - faded glare pink.

Vrana's acrylic abstractions are uneven, both in style and accomplishment. They can be divided into two main categories: wet versus chalky and dry. The former group is relatively strong while the latter
e.g. Pilobolus and Ephermeral Pool seem unfinished, like tentative efforts to sketch out a terrain. Colors tend to veer between the blue, green, and the metallic.

The muddy, pleasing Pangea is coppery overall, with an under-layer of blue and green poking through. Separate thickened areas suggest landmasses, though not the Ur-continent promised by the title. Pearl-like drops of green, red, and silvery white dot the surface. (Dots are common in Vrana's work.)

The blue-green-silver Fertile Valley makes use of a somewhat clichéd marbling effect (used less effectively elsewhere). An amorphous, bubbly cloud
white and warm blue seems to sink towards the lower left. An overall yellow-green grid gives the painting an unusually robust structure.

All in all, these four women make a welcome addition to the SOAG's roster. Pollock's work is particularly so, with its melding of abstraction and naturalism and its distinctive subject matter - big city life for a populace that clings to scenes of unsullied nature.

Also, see Wylie Schwarz's interview with Erica Pollock from a few weeks back:
Pollock: I paint in a contemporary realist style, and I am very influenced by the urban environment. I love watching people and deriving things from watching them. I've always been an introspective person and so I actually learn a lot from watching people. Most of my reference material comes from the cities. My first body of work was based on trying to take a very commonplace scene which you would ordinarily not pay much attention to and to present it to people. Once it's in the form of a painting, people stop to look the subject matter whereas in real life, the scene would have barely caught their eye.


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