Despite a rough passage through postmodern theory, the grid has made another strong appearance at Elizabeth Harris Gallery in the paintings of Pat Passlof. Her most recent series, variations on a theme entitled Eighth House, relies heavily on the grid for structure. The best work in the show proves the staying power of this tried-and-true fundamental of painting.
Passlof hasn’t always been a grid painter or even an abstract painter. She came by her current motif honestly from a loose figurative style in the early 1990s to a less strictly structured abstraction in the late 1990s. It seems to be only in the new millennium that she decided to focus more exclusively on the theme. Even now, it appears, she hesitates. “Eighth House #6” and “Eighth House #10” are among the paintings that reveal this, a meandering abstraction that never seems to settle on a composition. The former is composed of squiggly yellow forms in a cobalt sea of paint. It reminds me of John Marin’s half-hearted stabs at abstraction. The latter looks like a loose Sam Francis—all color, no form.
When Passlof insists more staunchly on the grid, she produces impressive paintings. Her wet-in-wet style works off the grid’s rigidity. She groups thick lines in sets of three and abuts horizontal sets with vertical sets to create a tension of opposites. She’s never strict about the compositions, and a solitary horizontal line or truncated vertical is commonplace. In my favorite painting, “Eighth House #15,” black lines tile the plane in a somber ochre ground. Less imposing but equally large is “Eighth House #13,” in which the cad yellow lines are quickened by the painting’s flickering brushwork.
There is something totemic about these larger grid paintings. In Passlof’s work, the grid is a foil for form and for the properties of paint far more than it is a conceptual end. Her repetition of sets and use of the grid does not call to mind the cerebral work of artists such as Ryman or LeWitt. Sean Scully’s painting seems a more apt source of comparison. One is convinced that Passlof cares deeply for her lines and what they might represent. Her tendency to oppose these lines in a fragile balance seems elemental to her thinking, inseparable from her drive to paint. When a painter breathes new life into an old motif, she makes it her own. In that sense, Passlof is painting the first grid.
Robert C. Morgan: The Loggia Paintings: Early and Recent WorkBy Jonathan Goodman
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
Intellectual, critic, and art historian Robert C. Morgan also makes paintings, and has been doing so for most of his long career. The current show, on view in the large, high-ceilinged main space of the Scully Tomasko Foundation, consists of a series of drawings called Living Smoke and Clear Water: small, mostly black-and-white works, of both an abstract expressionist and calligraphic nature (early on in life, Morgan studied with a Japanese calligrapher).
Helen Frankenthaler: Drawing within Nature: Paintings From The 1990sBy Robert C. Morgan
MARCH 2023 | ArtSeen
The exhibition of Helen Frankenthalers paintings from the early 1990s currently on view at Gagosian is a curious and provocative one. The shows title, Drawing within Nature, was a phrase once used by the artist to describe her work, which has been appropriated by the scholar Thomas Crow, who contributes an essay to the exhibition catalogue.
Wallace Berman: Off the GridBy Ann McCoy
OCT 2021 | ArtSeen
Descending into the cellar at TOTAH feels like entering a sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies. The leitmotif of this exhibition could be the theme of intimacy, images feeling like handheld windows into the artists psyche.
Eve Fowler: New WorkBy Ksenia Soboleva
FEB 2023 | ArtSeen
The exhibition of Fowlers work currently on view at Gordon Robichaux shows us that her feminist pursuits are far from abandoned. Fittingly titled Eve Fowler: New Work, the solo show consists of a film, a series of collages, and a nine-channel video installation.