Wednesday, November 18, 2009


First String, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 50 inches

From today's Ithaca Times:
Barbara Mink is one of Ithaca's most exciting and unpredictable painters. Her latest solo show "Event Horizons" is up this month at The State of The Art Gallery and features canvases from mostly this year. These rich, sometimes quirky abstractions combine pouring and dripping in the tradition of Jackson Pollock with brushy atmospherics that owe something to Romantic landscape painting.

Understanding the history of Mink's development as an artist can heighten a viewer's sensitivity to the different aspects of her style. For her development has been accretive; you can often find traces of her older approaches within her constantly evolving style. Mink started painting about a decade ago. Her work has evolved from still-life and botanical illustration to a looser, more atmospheric form of landscape with affinities to such masters as J.M.W Turner and James Whistler.

Then, as she likes to say, the horizon-line disappeared. (This is akin to moving your head up or down.) Her work over the past half-decade or so has become more and more abstract, gradually, never completely, shedding its allusions to landscape.

As indicated by her paintings' titles, Mink's recent work incorporates yet another influence: popular science. As the founder and artistic director of Ithaca's yearly art and science festival Light in Winter (the next one is upcoming January 21-24) this might seem natural. Knowing her work, however, the move is a bit surprising.

Her work is quintessentially lush and immediate, seemingly the polar opposite of science's remote concepts. At a recent informal talk (given as part of the LiW-sponsored monthly Science Cabaret series) she expressed some ambivalence about her attempts to bridge these "two cultures". It's best to regard her "concepts" as starting points for personal and unscientific association-making.

An unexpected presence unifies most of these paintings. One or several spheres, often red, have been brushed into these amorphous paint-scapes. They invite narrative associations, either microcosmic or macrocosmic
atoms or planets, for example. Too, they could be balls, giving these works a game-like quality. Most importantly, they provide stable reference points for the viewer trying to find a way into these paintings.

They're the descendants of the detailed botanical specimens that populated some of her earlier landscapes. For all their geometrical primitiveness, they act as stand-ins for the human body, always moving but stable.

A series of three large paintings take their names from those given to the three laws of thermodynamics by the scientist and cultural critic C.P. Snow: You Can't Win (a triptych), You Can't Break Even and You Can't Quit The Game. (Snow's poetic paraphrases are more apposite here that the actual science.) Nearly monochromatic, each features a murky curtain of black, gray, and muted color suspended over a flatly painted white background.

A big problem with these pieces arises from the fact that in areas the white has been brushed over the splattered areas creating a duller, less dynamic contour line and an awkwardly mannered sense of space.

Butterfly Catastrophe, another triptych featuring "empty" white background avoids this mistake. Here the spilled paint curtain
mostly coils and puddles of black with areas of intense but white-softened pinks and oranges sits more properly up front, its edges un-brushed-over. Catastrophe was painted in the last month or so. It suggests new directions.

First String and Second String are the strongest pieces. (Their titles allude to a theory addressing the composition of matter.) First suggests something like a traditional landscape: there is a thin strip of darker, solidly painted matter seemingly growing or accreting from the bottom edge: pink, red, gray. A black coil carries the eye into the air
all clouds of white, beige, pale pinks and oranges. The red balls, of which there are many, seem oddly neither here nor there.

Second, although similarly colored, is something else. Suspended over a flat black background, a Rorsharch-like cascade of paint bridges the upper left and lower right corners. Springs of white paint
smooth at times, staccato at others traverse the other two corners.

You Can't Get There From Here might be part satellite-view landscape and part billiards game. Intricate rivers and clouds of paint
creamy pinks and purples, white and cool gray have been laced once again with smooth black coils. A spread of red balls cast black shadows, making them feel particularly three-dimensional and making their backdrop feel flatter than it would otherwise. The effect is a mannered, impure and loopily engaging.

The title of Random Walk alludes to attempts to mathematically formalize certain random processes. (According to the artist it resembles, if by accident, a graph of such dynamics.) The painting is distinctive for its richly encrusted texture and its gold on black. It's the most compelling of several smaller paintings here. The twin-sized Hubbles and Bubbles are more suggestive of the confectionary than the astronomical. Square and using smooth black backgrounds, they feature particularly cartoonish cascades of pink, white and gray alongside a crowd of blue balls
an overuse of this somewhat precious icon.

The work within "Event Horizons" is uneven. (I always say this yes, but it's particularly true here.) But the best work in the gallery, though not flawless, is so compelling that it almost seems not to matter. Spend some time exploring these evocative environments and don't be afraid to follow your eyes where they lead you.


Blogger Jan said...

Always great to see through your eyes. Thank you for that.

I felt the paintings had such presence that being in a larger space would let them breathe. I felt I could never look at one without another one interfering. This of course is not a criticism of the painting, but of the very small space at SOAG. I think the paintings would actually look different if there were only 4 or 5.

1:31 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

I've never liked the SOAG's space much at all, though it's hard to say way. Always just seemed kind of awkward.

I remember seeing Barbara's paintings in 2006 at Cornell's Willard Straight Hall gallery. It may have been my first experience with her work. I met her for the first time there as well. The space is maybe about the same size as the SOAG's front room but the ceiling is higher and that helped. The lighting wasn't great though.

5:15 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

And you're welcome, Jan.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

I will be gallery sitting for a couple hours right before the show goes down, so I will enjoy re-reading this and looking at the paintings more closely. I was also happy that Barbara had music at this reception. The ambience was seductive.

Look forward to more of your posts in the future!

9:17 PM  

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