What is the opposite of abstract? I found myself pondering this as I searched for words to describe the exhibition PAIN(T)HREE put together by Elga Wimmer at her gallery Elga Wimmer PCC.
Is the opposite of abstract art those sand paintings that are painstakingly put together then dismantled by Tibetan Buddhist monks? If the opposite of abstract is the concrete, then Alison Knowles’ 1962 Fluxus piece Proposition #2: Make a Salad, in which the artist makes a salad and serves it to the audience, is diametrically opposed to abstraction. Precise moments of sensation: not abstract. Thus, it is interesting the title of this show, in addition to “three,” is playing with the words “paint” and “pain.” Is any kind of pain automatically 180 degrees from abstraction? Performance artist Chris Burden’s 1971 piece Shoot in which a bullet pierced his upper arm is certainly far from abstract. What would be the quintessential work of abstract art? The one that caused the least pain? When they engaged in painful discussions about flatness in the 1950s, Clement Greenburg and Harold Rosenberg were attempting to make the abstract concrete.
PAIN(T)HREE explores none of these ideas in their extreme form yet these ideas circulate. Wimmer presents recent works on canvas, tile and paper by Lynne Golob Gelfman, Lydia Dona, and Carmen Neely, three female artists, each at different points in their careers.
Wimmer found Lynne Golob Gelfman (b. 1944) at the Perez Art Museum in Miami where she also has a show on exhibit through April 21. Gelfman, who has spent a career focused on materials, gives new meaning to the idea of “attacking a painting from all sides” with two works from her “thru” series. Gelfman, who calls herself a trickster, paints on the back of a stretched canvas with acrylic then turns it around and re-stretches it, back to front, revealing a much more nuanced color scheme in what has bled through the surface, giving an altered feel to her natural hand. She discovered this phantom staining and bleeding technique by accident when she was looking at the back of a work of hers. In verso, it captured something she was looking for, a more bleached out look, tenuous and much more suggestive of the Florida environs she now calls home after growing up in New York. For her, it also recalls textile and basket-weaving weaving patterns by indigenous peoples that resonate with time she has spent in Colombia. She employs repeating triangles that point in different directions and square forms that accentuate drips, creating angular lines. In “thru 2.b” from 2014, golds, dark reds and dark greens dominate more subtle grey and blue-grey triangles. Then the subtle grey and blue-grey triangles comprise all of her “thru 3.4″.
In an installation of Gelfman’s more recent “Dune” series— examples 1 through 12—six-inch square acrylic works on tile feature overlapping vertical shapes, intersecting bubbles or chunky squares in faint and ultra-fine greys, silvers and golds. The array in which these twelve works are displayed echoes the grid-like presentation that comprises her “thru” series.
Lydia Dona’s exciting new paintings “Bold Assessments” and ”Matter Above Memory” powerfully parlay oil, acrylic, enamel sign paint, and pigment into depictions of otherwise mysterious visible processes, combining mastery and confidence with a noble fragility to strike delicate balances. She achieves equilibrium between her lines and fields of color, transparent and opaque layers, between strikingly pure and muted colors, between forms evocative of both engineering and dribbles, and between areas of painted texture, some hurled, others coaxed with brushes expertly, the way Michelangelo chiseled David from a chunk of rock. Her marks and lines release overtones of imaginary clanging metal sounds, the pounding of throbbing internal organs or the white noise of life-sustaining spiritual processes just above and below the threshold of hearing.
Dona (b. 1955) has said her work is developed from observations in her personal life, and her reactions to it. With city life, global issues and current events swirling around the gallery at coarser frequencies, Dona summons the viewer into calm spaces buried in her images where eliciting neither emptiness nor total engagement, we can bear witness to a strange world both foreign and familiar. Here we hover in her articulated voids where, neither pleasantly or painfully, we inhabit a pumping biological machine that seeking to ward off foreign invaders, separate normal substances from antigens or beckon us like plasma cells transporting oxygen. Everything seems to be in motion here. These paintings are snapshots of psycho-molecular footprints, unseen spiritual domains that push unformed ideas up against the world of physics.
She pierces her compositions occasionally with bold lines, taking risks to divide up her self-created environments that obstruct but never interrupt colliding arrangements and interweaving systems of spooky cartoons reminiscent of Duchamp, Picabia, Gorky, Matta and Jean Tingley collapsing into each other in a profusion of sacred, unkempt creative and destructive dances. They populate lush but unsettling landscapes smeared and shaded with tangy, fragrant and sour grace notes.
Dona, an American artist born in Romania and raised in Israel, draws fragmented diagrams of all kinds: 20th-century car manuals, weather maps, topographical shifts, biological processes, medical information, and architecture. Despite its ethereal qualities, her work is grounded in the physical.
Carmen Neely (b. 1987) received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro two years ago. She has said her work captures the intersection of love and loss when she revisits conversations then paints in the details after she has come up with a title. Words weave the events of her life and her interpersonal relationships with paint, graphite and tactile items, bending her scribblings, bursts of color, obsessively reworked scratchy patches, curves and zigzags into suggestive but inexact storytelling, punctuated by the occasional three-dimensional object.
There are three sets of work here: a 2017 set of four on paper, a set of three square pieces and one large piece that seems tethered to a disco ball rather than vice versa. That large 2018 oil painting, “Everybody’s a bad guy to somebody but nobody is a bad guy to everybody all of the time” shows a red shape and black shape at either end of the canvas arching toward the middle like parentheses. This one work is similar in scale to Dona’s work across the room and some of her marks also echo the older artist and both provide a contrasts with Gelfman’s more geometric presentations. My favorite work by Neely, however, are the 4 works on paper, that share another, smaller room with Dona. A single, untitled 30 x 30 inch Dona 2014 work on paper is hung across from four amusing Nelly compositions. Her magical “Tina and Murphey Daydream: Two” done with lithograph, graphite, watercolor, duct tape, glue, wood, and vinyl and “Simon and Debbie Throwback: One” on which Neely combined the uplifting graphite cartoony glyphs seen in all four of these works with watercolor, canvas, instant photo, and felt to create a pink-purple litany of shapes and textures with repetitive forms that dance diagonally across the surface of the paper. Then “Tina and Murphey Daydream: Three” has an almost interchangeable color scheme while “Tina and Murphey Daydream: Two” resembles a tableau of familiar objects but isn’t, right down to marks that look like a floating matrix of stubborn staples on the lower right.
In fact, this entire show does what only abstract art can do—it makes no sense, it approaches but never reaches something recognizable, yet it satisfies precisely because it provides a palpable sensation, one that is only palpable for eyes. The paint here is plentiful and effective, the pain is optional.
Lynne Golob Gelfman
Elga Wimmer PCC
January 17-March 23
By Mark Bloch