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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



James Walsh. Trill. 2009. Acrylic on panel, 11 1/8 x 10 in. Collection of Spanierman Gallery.
Noodling around the galleries, I’ve picked up five situations worth mention. I say “situations” rather than “exhibitions” because in some cases, it was only the work of a single artist that stood out in a group show. Such was the case with Francine Tint, whose acrylic on canvas, “Cybelle 11”, was the star of the “Winter Salon” at Denise Bibro in Chelsea (closed January 28). The same applies to George Hofmann, whose “Duccio Fragment Number 1,” an acrylic on plywood, is the star of “WWW.AFTER-DUCCIO.COM”, at Ventana 244 in Williamsburg (through February 10).

Just down the street from Ventana 244 is Figureworks, where a more expansive situation obtains. The show is ”Ellen Emmet Rand/Ellen Emmet Rand,” and it’s the first time I’ve seen combined the handiwork of a grandmother and a granddaughter (through March 4). The original Ellen Emmet Rand was born in 1875, and, after studying with William Merritt Chase and elsewhere, became a successful illustrator and portraitist in the early years of the 20th century. Her granddaughter, also named Ellen Emmet Rand, is self-taught, beyond what she learned through studying and working with stage design for many years. At present, she is the proprietor of Art 101, the Williamsburg gallery that last autumn showcased the work of Richard Timperio. The exhibition at Figureworks combines highly proficient portraits and figure studies in oils and graphic media by the elder Rand with appealing smallish abstracts by the younger one in pale, melting colors; they are made with a variety of paint, pastel and oil pastel. A link between the generations is provided by the fact that the abstracts were made by painting over a series of figurative paintings done in the 1990s. Beyond that, as Randall Harris, proprietor of Figureworks, observes, “there is a remarkable similarity in palette, use of light, and a unified sensitivity to composition.”

Another show of some interest is “David Goerk: Recent Works,” at Howard Scott, in the same Chelsea building that houses Denise Bibro (through February 25). These are very small wall sculptures, composed of rectilinear combinations of little blocks, thin slabs and bars of wood, painted with wax, oil or enamel---usually only a limited number of colors per item—black and white, green, blue and white, red and white, or some such. The show has been hung so that each portion of the walls is occupied by a group of these small sculptures with a similar color scheme. I was told that just one of these toy-like pieces can hold a wall, all by itself, but I went for the group with the white, blue and green combinations. Maybe I’m not as minimal in my tastes as this gallery is.

“Fifteen Contemporary Artists Represented by Spanierman Gallery” (through February 18) is a group show unlike the others I’ve mentioned, most importantly in that all its artists deserve at least some mention. A nice selection of the kinds of art currently being made begins with skillful but also affectionate flower studies and landscapes – sometimes, though not always, reminiscent of the far end of Long Island---by Terry de Lapp, Clifford Smith, Pamela Sztybel and Susan Vecsey. At the other end of the range are abstract paintings, each with a personality of its own, and including work by Frank Bowling, Jasmina Danowski, Teo González, Carol Hunt, Lisa Nankivil, Katherine Parker, and Frank Wimberley. Joyce Ho is responsible for somewhat mysterious, faintly surrealist figure studies, Demetrio Alfonso contributes some playfully sadistic mixed-media wall constructions, and Elaine Grove vividly evokes “Sound Weighs” (2010) in a delightful construction composed out of the external horn from an antique phonograph, plus elements from an equally antique scale. The whole group represents a considerable range of ages, with Wimberley (b. 1926) the eldest, and Ho (b. 1983) the youngest.

The most dramatic newcomer to the group is James Walsh (b. 1954), who displays four modestly-scaled but beautifully executed acrylics that are like absolutely nothing else. Half-way between painting and relief, three are on canvas, mounted on panel, and the fourth is simply acrylic on panel, but in all cases, some or all of the pigment has been enriched with molding paste or some other thickening agent. The result is that it swirls across the surface of the picture, almost as though it were still a thick liquid, rising upon occasion into wavelike scrolls & billows, and in other paintings to sweeps of paint. Walsh has been working in this direction for some years, and he’s come a long way with it since I last saw his work in an exhibition. Not only is he more discriminating in the range of colors that he will employ in a single piece, but he has developed – or at least, chosen to newly emphasize—an entirely different way of handling his paint—by scraping it away from some areas of his fields until these areas become once again entirely flat, though still covered with the thinnest possible layer of color. The contrasts between the flat and billowing, raised areas of texture set up a whole new exciting dynamic.

These little pictures are so rich that it’s been difficult for me to decide which I like best. All four are well-composed & distinguished by Walsh’s fine color sense, but in the end I decided to reproduce the smallest of them, “Trill.” Classically simple, its blue wood field has the paint scraped away from it so completely that the wood grain shows through it, while the seemingly monumental pink-and-gray clump hangs down, dominating the composition but carved out in the middle and piled succulently at the bottom. What a pleasure to contemplate!
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