February Review: "What Only Paint Can Do" -Enrico Gomez

“What Only Paint Can Do”

The current offering at the Triangle Arts Association Gallery (111 Front St. Suite #222) is entitled, “What Only Paint Can Do” and is assembled by lauded, seminal curator and art critic, Karen Wilkin. The show, though color-filled and dazzling, is also initially difficult due in part to the disparity in style of the twelve painters here gathered. But the variation in artist technique and intention with regard to their chosen medium is also the strength of the show. In fact, it is the very point. 

Organized as a tribute to Triangle Arts Association’s thirtieth year of existence and its tenth year in Dumbo, this show is comprised solely of Triangle workshop and residency program alum. In this way, every artwork performs a triple duty of representing Triangle, the artist’s independent oeuvre and one particular approach to the topic of paint; a duty, I might add, they fulfill quite admirably. 

At one end of the abstraction spectrum here, are the tightly rendered encaustic and oil paintings of James Little. These modest 24” square works display vertical bands of pastel oranges, yellows and blues and exude an air of simplicity and ease that belie the known volatility and unruliness of encaustic. These luscious, taffy-like smooth surfaces warrant repeated savoring. 

At the other end of the abstraction spectrum: a marvelous 9’ tall acrylic on canvas from Larry Poons entitled, “Utah”, that really hustles and jives. Vibrant and highly textured, this topographical work includes ochre, foam-like masses that seem to drift apart from one another like continents. Elsewhere, bright orange bands cut the scene into cartographic territories and circular swaths of sea-foam green and blue. “Granny”, an impasto delight from artist Summer Wheat, both represents portrait painting and typifies Wheat’s trademark fascination with mixing high art and low; here exemplified with “googly eye” cakes of pigment atop a face rendered so thick it verges, adeptly, on the sculptural. Even history painting makes an appearance in a wonderful trio entitled, “Portrait of ‘God and Three Virgins’ (apologies to Julian Schnabel, Salvador Dali, and Francis Picabia)” by painter and Parker’s Box gallerist, Alun Williams. Williams typically subverts the paradigms of historical painting by focusing on little known subjects and representing them with a random gesture or paint spill from his immediate environs. Here, he has taken these paint splatters not from his surroundings but rather, from the pantheon of art history itself. In this way, he elevates the gestures of both other artists and himself, however incidental, to the realm of the sacred. Like doorways into a strange surreality, these paintings show us the same four shapes, hovering and communing in silent sanctification with one another. 

When viewed in toto, all of the paintings within the gallery begin to occur as doors; motley and incongruent, leading into entire worlds of particular design and personal histories with paint. In managing to construct a show at once challenging, enlightening, concise and encyclopedic, Wilkin, by way of careful and considered selection, means not only to introduce us to the variety and features of each “doorway” but also, one believes, to bid us enter. (through Feb. 23) 

—Enrico Gomez