John Haber Arts

Hatching a Scheme

February 12, 2014

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Some paintings grow more real the longer one looks, at Asya Geisberg through February 15. First, though, with Angelina Gualdoni, one has to let go.

One may hate to give up seeing them as abstractions, in which oil and acrylic can take on rough glow of enamel. (No, she is hardly Jackson Pollock, but then who is?) Gualdoni appeared in “Pour” last spring at the same gallery, and her stains spread outward from the center of a canvas. And then a brushstroke or a spatter may land on top of that. Angelina Gualdoni's Room (Asya Geisberg gallery, 2013)

One may want to hold onto the bare spots, the incomplete edges, the awkward vagueness, and the loose compositions suggestive of an unfinished painting. Gualdoni also appeared in “The Trace of a Trace of a Trace” in 2006, and who after Postmodernism does not expect reality to remain at a third remove?

Speaking just for myself, though, I most wanted to see her interiors as cross-hatching after Jasper Johns. The motif may serve as wallpaper, tiling, a tabletop, the base of a window, or nothing obvious at all. As with Johns, it often appears in thin bright lines on white, but it can also deepen into darker traces against deep violet, almost like Johns in encaustic. It never once fills a canvas, and it does not coincide with the picture plane, but it can still drive the rest of a painting into depth.

That drive, of course, is realism, as is the identification of color with light. Gualdoni’s series depicts a plant on a table or ledge, either outdoors or in front of a window. In the interiors, the window is the only source of light. Her morning and afternoon sunlight can wash out the background entirely, leaving a tangled silhouette. It can also sink much of the room in shadow, which then gathers more color. Painting cannot get more realistic than that—or more abstract.

Mike Childs, too, works with cross-hatching, just recently at Robert Henry Contemporary through February 2. He treats it not as a subject in itself, as in all-over painting, but as what his show calls “Structural Tendencies.” The tendencies include broad areas of bright but flat color, with hard edges but unfamiliar geometry. They also include irregular diamond patterns in gray or more muted colors. Rather than Johns, they may recall Terry Winters, but without the fuss or the science fiction. Think of Winters for a crisper, simpler today.

Like Winters, he is not above illusion. Where Gualdoni is among the many these days working between realism and abstraction, Childs sticks to abstraction, but with its own broken borders. Rather than a flat surface set against a deeper space, his grid is a window onto depth. Or make that a window onto windows. His cells may curve, like fragments of a buckyball, or bounce around in the picture plane. They may also have thick edges, like old TV sets, with additional shades of color or gray within.

The contrasts keep one looking, only partly to decipher the imagined architecture. Maybe Peter Halley will come shopping for storm windows for his postmodern prisons. Others, though, will relish the shifting colors and scales in two dimensions, like an orange field rolling in from the left. The shifts may well depend on scale. Works on paper in black and white look great online, on the same full screen as a canvas, but do not hold up as well in the gallery. The paintings, in contrast, keep on tending toward structure.

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