Linda Day and Stuart Allen at JayJay
David M. Roth
In “Horizons,” an exposition of nine acrylic paintings, Linda Day has taken the basic tenets of hard-edge, geometric abstraction and turned them upside down. Where in the recent past she employed the orthodoxies of the genre -- precise lines, bold colors and repetitive shapes -- to create an optical buzz, her paintings now reveal something entirely different: references to landscape that inject moodiness into what has historically been an icy, formalist province.
Unlike Kenneth Noland and others of his ilk who formulated this style in the early 1960s, Day embraces beauty and the sheer tactile joy of manipulating pigment. In horizontally stacked layers of mostly muted colors laid down in wavy and sometimes jagged lines that spill out over the edge of the frame, Day’s new paintings display a visible, archeological record of their creation.
You may think you’re looking at conventional stripe paintings, but such thoughts dissolve quickly. How, exactly, this happens is unclear. But there are clues. One is that Day’s lines are never straight. They roll and slope and pile up like towering confections in a plethora of close-hued colors whose glossy textures recall pulled taffy. (From “Pulse: Between/Beyond # 8,” a painting looks good enough to eat, I recorded more than a dozen shades before exhausting my color vocabulary.) Another clue is that these colors are achieved by an improvisational process of layering which yields unintentional Rorschach-like artifacts that linger amorphously below the surface.
Bands of colors define themes and counter themes. Gently loping lines tap out rhythms and polyrhythms, and subsurface shadow blots add accents. If it’s true, as Josef Albers said, that “the origin of art is the discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect” then “Pulse: Between/Beyond # 8” qualifies as Exhibit A. It’s an orchestra for the eye.
The same holds for the other major work in this show, “Pulse: Between/Beyond # 10.” A large-scale (3 x 11’) mash-up of forest and sea rendered in blue/green shades, it evokes a never-ending horizon – something that hard-edge abstraction (or color field painting as it was also known) claimed to do but rarely achieved. Day’s ambiguous lines and interleaved colors produce a hypnotic, transporting effect.
It’s instructive to note what preceded the current Pulse series. “Chime #3”, from a body of work made in 2006, features short vertical bands organized in a grid that start out pale at the edges and build to a searing orange crescendo at the center. Combined, they form multiple perspectives of what looks like a constructivist cityscape bisected vertically by a superhighway -- an update of Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings in which opposing color swatches stand-in for ones and zeros to represent an information-saturated universe. The contrast between the two bodies of work couldn’t be sharper; it demonstrates the distance she’s traveled in a short time.
Stuart Allen’s sculptures, which reference light, space and flight with kites and other forms made from sail cloth, were an interesting counterpoint. Five were on view here in “Measured.”
One, a box kite, hung from the gallery’s clerestory ceiling; the other four were wall-mounted and used repetition as a key ingredient. “One consists of seven sail-shapes affixed to a wall with turnbuckles; another featured 60 small box kites deployed perpendicularly around a corner, a possible reference to molecular geometry. While Allen’s work deals with environmental factors, it typically appears indoors, which means it can sometimes feel a bit constrained when not arrayed across big spaces as it was in 2007 at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Yet the opposite can also be true. “A Kite for Flying in the Air” and “A Kite for Flying in Water” – two well-paired departures from Allen’s ultra-minimalist aesthetic – resemble battle shields garnished with braided rope. That uncharacteristic piece of ornamentation thrust the work into a different realm, bringing to mind the kinkier aspects of Mathew Barney’s work, which in this context was not a bad thing.
Both Day and Allen seem to have inched out of their comfort zones. Day simplified, Allen complicated, and in so doing they created a symbiosis of compatible opposites – one that points toward fresh and exciting directions for both.
“Horizons” by Linda Day and “Measured” by Stuart Allen closed at JayJay October 25, 2008.
David M. Roth is a contributing editor to Artweek.