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Peter Acheson and Mor Pipman

Elizabeth Harris

Like the repetitions of a fugue, variation within purity is one of the experiences provoked by looking at Peter Acheson’s paintings. No painting measures more than twelve inches, yet they have the look of field paintings, with semi-transparent brush work played over hints of pentimento. Lined at the tops, bottoms or sides with notational marks, they read through time and begin to hint at a decipherable code. Meanwhile, elongated works are scattered within the series, creating an syncopated rhythm throughout the gallery.

This musical analogy carries with it associations with artists like Paul Klee, who discovered that line can act as a hieroglyphic notation. In Acheson’s case, notation is as plain as can be, a kind of concrete poetry, made up of concise ellipses and perpendicular locking patterns.

Acheson’s paintings, like those made by Forest Bess or Myron Stout, are also misleadingly diminutive, in part because they are not miniatures but derive from the modern ambition to renew the real through the work of connecting with and transmiting the influence of ancient cultures. Acheson’s work brings to mind the freshness of Minoan frescos, the tough lyricism of rock paintings, as well as the adventures of car travel through the American landscape.

These paintings have a relaxed buoyant quality, where the chromatic warms and cools convey a wide range of musical textures, from trumpeting tones to the lapping sound of water. While the sensation of being the traveling companion of an ant comes to mind, the breadth of vistas in view is also implied. Yet even with their emotional variety of associations, Acheson’s paintings are plain spoken urban pastorals.

Hollow like the sculptures of Mayan kings, and twisted and segmented like gargoyles, Mor Pipman’s sculptures burst into the space of our more reasonable world with demonic force. Their forms are basic and vital, and their surfaces are rough and earthy, covered in places with deep and irridescent glazing, their faces covered with a geisha whiteness. This sense of force is intrinsic to her work and necessarily connected to its content of transporting life forms from one realm to another.

Each being is named from a figure in history, real or mythic: Socrates, the Sphinx, Remus and Romulus, Homer, Prometheus. Each of these beings is engaged with the generative and destructive elements of the human dialectic of progress. But as semi-divine creatures, they don’t quite possess full mastery of the powers they have been given. Morphing from one state to another, Pipman captures the transformative moment of suffering, yet each sculpture retains an aspect of impishness that the romantics thought symbolized the genius of inspiration. Impish, because genius was uncontrollable and therefore perverse.

For Goethe, poetry moved between two poles. "Toward the earth which inexhaustibly geared it, toward the infinite force of flight that like the impulse of love renewed desire." Goethe thought that Hermes’ restless travels to Hades was much more eternal than the impulse of love in Apollo’s hands. In Pipman’s hands, the artist sculpts to find the breath of each creature, until it bursts the liminal realm between the inorganic and life itself, as it labors toward a revelation that will always be forbidden to it.


Rachel Youens


The Brooklyn Rail

APR-MAY 2003

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