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Feb 8, 2011 12:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Art Review: The Drawing Room Group Show

Feb 8, 2011 12:18 PM

While abstraction and representational methodologies will always have oppositional approaches and priorities, the current exhibition at The Drawing Room in East Hampton blurs the distinctions twixt the two.

The distinctions between both the structure and the emotion of the real world reflect, as Marc Chagall stated, an idea “which comes to life through a gamut of contrasts, plastic at the same time as psychic, pervading both the picture and the eye of the spectator with conceptions of new and unfamiliar elements.” This is particularly apparent in recent works by Robert Harms, which reflect an energetically vibrant view of nature that is nevertheless gently rhythmic in his use of calligraphic and linear components. The work seems to create an almost psychological view of the natural world in which the environment’s organized frenzy of energy seems capable of bursting through the artificial constraints of the picture plane and offering, in the words of Arshile Gorky, “an explosion into unknown areas.”

In the work “Sunday” (oil on canvas, 2010), for example, the artist’s expressionistic calligraphic scrawls across the canvas highlight a melodious marriage of line and color, each accentuated by a powerful use of light and negative space. Reminiscent in tone of the later works of Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, there is a delicate quality to the interplay of painterly elements, allowing the artist to avoid the act of merely re-creating nature and instead focusing on finding those integral aspects that offer the idea of the moment rather than a literal mirroring of its components. This is also apparent in other works such as “Streamers” (oil on canvas, 2010) and “Little Fresh Pond” (watercolor on paper, 2010), while “Snow Drift” (oil on canvas, 2010) uses color to hint at nature’s resistance to winter’s icy and malevolently beautiful grip.

The relationship between abstraction and representational approaches is also a major element in Jennifer Bartlett’s works. Although, in these pieces on view, the artist has muted the minimalist grid motifs of much of her previous works and instead uses light, color and architectonic shapes to flatten the picture plane and establish her extremely subtle narrative framework. Using rather mundane images to create a sense of mystery and a palpable air of silence, the colors orchestrate the surface composition in surprising ways while the manner in which she frames the areas of interest have an indefinable photographic or cinematic sensibility.

In “Nevis, January #5” (pastel on paper, 2007-2008), for example, the architectural elements serve to organize the compositional picture plane in juxtapositional geometric relationships which is underscored by the vibrant use of colors and an extremely assertive shaft of light that bisects part of the canvas. These conjure atmospheric sensations that are hinted at but never specifically identified and lead to a measure of narrative ambiguity that is highly refined and refreshingly enigmatic.

Mel Kendrick’s small sculptures in pigmented plaster also offer tones of mystery that are, in these works, derived from a union of geometry, negative space and restrained coloration. Highly redolent of primitive African sculpture in their anthropomorphic moods and configurations, the works investigate the interactions between tangible physicality and the conceptual spaces, reminiscent of what Gertrude Stein described as “pretty air.”

By contrast, there’s not a lot of negative space in the late Alan Shield’s chaotic and energetically rhythmic print collages that have often been described as post-minimalist, but which actually seem closer to spanning the gap between pop art and abstract expressionism. Using repetition of patterns and color to create a form of visual energy that is exuberant and whimsically childlike, works such as “Bull-Pen” and “Odd-Job” (both 1984) reflect Shield’s feel for minimalist principles and exquisite detail that combine collage technique with painterly principles.

The Drawing Room exhibition featuring Robert Harms, Jennifer Bartlett, Mel Kendrick and Alan Shields continues in East Hampton through April 3, though the gallery will be closed on Thursday, February 18 and, Monday, February 21 through March 17. The gallery will be open on Saturday, February 19 , and Sunday, February 20.

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