A few shows I’ve seen dealt with paintings that stood along the border between abstraction and representation. Some were more successful than others, despite there being no concrete definition for pseudo-abstraction. I was drawn to this ambivalence between defining and blurring the figurative, especially when it deceives and reveals itself with timely observation and intent starring.
Untitled (pig bristles/Re), 2008, oil and acrylic on MDF, 13.9 x 17.7 in
In a series of paintings and editioned prints at Casey Kaplan, Julia Schmidt portrays objects and surfaces with a ghostly sheen using white and other light muted shades to emphasize her attempts to abstract a deepened sense of reality. She isolates and micro zooms a paint bristle, covers the picture plane with a trail of paint stripper (paint on paint), and deconstructs a window to an articulation of lines and shading. She leaves plenty of room for pieces to roam and mingle with emptiness, as in her collage series with cut up images of decapitated figures. She uses both oil and acrylic and paints them on MDF, canvas, and paper which seems to emphasize exploration and diversity in an effort to build a repertoire, a means to find her true medium, a process involving repetitive working and reworking with materials to find her voice. If I were to point a flaw it would be that the concepts and ideologies create a dispersion rather than unifying the elements. As much as she does successfully “create a network of ideas and thematic inter-relationships while at the same time referencing and reexamining historical practices”, redundancy and arbitrariness resonates the almost premature interest of making work about work. Still, I can appreciate the personalizing of the materials that are within close reach for the artist, and her means of depicting these mundane objects with a refreshing and clean palette that isolates and protagonizes.
While Schmidt concerns herself with materials and surfaces, Joan Mitchell engages in engulfing images of sunflowers with abstracted abandonment immersed in the act of pictorial expression. This much older artist works in a completely different vocabulary than Schmidt revealing and exemplifying the fundamental ideas behind abstract expressionism but maintains the same vain of pseudo-abstraction.
Mitchell’s paintings are messy, deceivingly convoluted, nonsensical, and splotchy. They’re not so pretty to look at at first but with that intent starring I was inspired by her careless and free hand held under loose control by repetitive strokes of round and square. None of them look like the sunflowers that she intended to paint, but that’s not the point. The pseudo-abstraction is activated by her piling and grouping these painterly strokes to formulate a vague sense of real form, in this case being the plant and its base. The colors can be confusing but her use of warm yellows, rich blues and grounded greens hint at what is supposed to be the van Gogh inspired and favored flower.
detail of Sea Shift, 2008, watercolor on paper, 30 x 22.25 in
In Christian Schumann’s delightfully obsessive works on paper, watercolor is impressively manipulated to create both an atmospheric color field background and to layer on top an intricate repetitive pattern incisively marked by lines to create a geeky sci fi otherworld. I was amazed by the artist’s deft hand and his ability incorporate a sense of doom and darkness in the patterns that would be abstract but take a closer look and I was able to spot what seemed like profiles of skeletal animals. The forms are round and bulbous, slippery, packed, holed and squirmy. I wholly agree with the press release when it says the works are “imbued by an inexplicable melancholy”. I immediately thought of Daniel Zeller, they both use the obsessive and repetitive to suggest a world that is outside but reflective of our world, heightened by fantasy and escapism. I thoroughly enjoyed briefly leaving my place in reality and entering this forlorn but oddly welcoming netherland.
My least favorite but noteworthy show out of these four is Robert Moskowitz at D’Amelio Terras. This paintings are all about dichotomy: place and non-place, black and white, abstraction and representation. The forms are painstakingly minimal, almost to an irritating degree, decomposed to the point of nullification. Still, I can appreciate these works for their unforgiving simplicity and the decision to use sharp edgy declarative lines cutting through the color fields. The images suggest a tower, a face, a horse, leafless branches, a highway, and a figure, all put aside or decentered from the picture plane, cut off in half, or bordering, or zoomed so only parts are shown. The jagged lines made it less convincing to formulate a silhouetted form but were equally unsuccessful in complete abstraction. There is a sense of silence and pent up energy, emanating from the angularity and harshness of the line.