Traditional/ Postmodern with Jane Bloodgood-Abrams, Tony Thompson, Russell DeYoung and Ragellah Rourke

November 26, 2009 through January 3, 2010

Ragellah Rourke concerns herself with capturing ethereal light through paint. Her treatment of the paint’s materiality and color is strongly informed by the work of Paul Klee, but in Rourke’s work the drawn marks of the brush dissolve rather beautifully into irrelevance as the depiction of a kind of other-worldly light emerges as her primary objective. What makes her work so compelling is her project of visualizing that which is inherently abstract. This body of work thus exists somewhere between representation and abstraction. Rourke depicts fragments of a world inaccessible to us through experience, but in which we nonetheless believe.

The primacy of light reappears in the work of Jane Bloodgood-Abrams, where it lends the landscape an auratic quality. Veils of paint sit atop one another, collectively creating a luminous effect that is almost tangible in its delicacy. The artist evokes the specificity of time and place, the sense that the moment captured has passed and will never recur. Her work speaks about this fleeting instant and its immortalization through paint and stroke. Bloodgood-Abrams cultivates the quietude of the sublime, an aesthetic concept that informed the works of the Hudson River School painters, whose subject matter Bloodgood-Abrams shares. Her work is “traditional” in content, in its striving toward simulating objective reality.

Where Bloodgood-Abrams departs from tradition is in her treatment of the edges of the canvas; whereas a traditional painting might allow the edges to melt away, dissolving the border between the painting and the world outside it, Bloodgood-Abrams asserts this boundary as a frame that delimits a separate space. She often employs a canopy of dense, stormy clouds, or simply a darkening at the edges, as framing devices that reinforce the composition’s bounds, sheltering the central, near-symmetrical landscape. This device works to declare the painting an object in itself, not merely a window into a world; the artist on occasion mounts her paintings in unusual frames such that they evolve into precious, independent objects. While her work clearly simulates a reality, it is self-contained; artifice itself generates a world that is, paradoxically, remote from actual experience. With the ambition and technical rigor of the Hudson River School painters, Bloodgood-Abrams makes a critical contribution to her genre: the creation of images that are as much self-referential objects as representations of the objective world.

In the work of Tony Thompson, tradition is undermined more completely, and more explicitly: his sculptures are crude in their material – rug remnants, fabric, thick acrylic paint – and far less labored than Bloodgood-Abrams’. And while Bloodgood-Abrams’ work succeeds by virtue of the complexity of her creative process, Thompson’s sculptures achieve their status as art through their simplicity. Thompson juxtaposes flat fragments of rug material with globular, hardened acrylic paint. The paint’s intrusion undercuts the rug’s decorative and practical nature – its use-value – recasting this object as useless. Thompson’s strongest works rely on the tension between diaphanous fabrics and thick paint: namely, the formal play between the delicate, random posture of the cloth and the paint’s deliberate, heavy splat that keeps the cloth in place. These works are about the experience of being held down, and gravity – holding down. And these sensory, experiential relationships that find such complete expression in Thompson’s work intimate the preservation of the contingent, the halting of time that Bloodgood-Abrams’ work invokes. As in her work, in Thompson’s the accidental is made permanent, precious.

Russell DeYoung paints poignant portraits of obscure forms that at times recall piles of detritus or antiquated machines. But to interpret his work even this far is misleading and erroneous; the viewer or critic’s effort to break these objects down into recognizable forms reveals a desire to know, to grasp what is designed to exist beyond our conceptual reach. For obscurity is a quality of DeYoung’s work that is crucial to the beauty of its driving concept: we can’t name these forms, and yet we feel as if we know them. Sometimes we empathize with them. The refusal of DeYoung’s forms to yield to our understanding is what makes them “Postmodern:” they destabilize our pre-conceived notions of reality, and the very concept of knowledge and its acquisition.

DeYoung’s palette and subject-matter alike call to mind Giorgio Morandi and Philip Guston, but perhaps the most illuminating comparison is to Max Ernst, whose pseudo-scientific pencil drawings (such as Farewell My Beautiful Land of Marie Laurencin, 1919) read as depictions of dysfunctional machines or useless tools. On his machine-like forms, DeYoung articulates with paint obscure, baffling features or functions – “buttons,” perhaps – the purpose of which seems nonexistent, the presence totally gratuitous. Like Ernst’s, DeYoung’s objects acquire a human-like presence. They read as portraits, and the artist’s switch from painting on wood to working with several new mediums (including string and crayon) on cardboard fragments seems in part motivated by a desire to express the objecthood of his subjects exhaustively, to see and touch them in their physicality. Thus there is something satisfying about seeing the cardboard constructions after having experienced the paintings. We feel as if we have arrived at the real thing: what the paintings intimate is here made actual, the portrait complete.

Jane Bloodgood-Abrams

Ragellah Rourke

Russell DeYoung

Tony Thompson