Galeria Janet Kurnatowski October 17 – November 16, 2008
When Kazimira Rachfal paints, she stands above a small canvas placed flat on a table, as if working into a plot of fertile ground. Her view is aerial yet intimate. By the time a painting reaches a gallery wall, it has evolved into a compact cosmos, where a gentle magic toys with gravity and orientation. Take the painting “a word for cave,” for example. A black rectangle with one rounded corner rests within a beige plane. The black form contains a kind of horizon, from which paint drips upward, against the earth’s pull. Light blue particles activate the dark shape into a self-contained firmament. Add to this a faint pencil circle floating outside the cavernous shape’s boundary. Barely noticeable, the circle is like a blank compass, which may act as a guide for i’ll go there, gladly. In Rachfal’s current exhibition at Galeria Janet Kurnatowski, logic bends ever so slightly and geometric shapes are pleasantly warped into resemblances of themselves.
For Rachfal, structure is a point of departure rather than a system to honor. The back room of the gallery displays tiny drawings on graph paper behind flat glass squares. Rachfal seems to take pleasure in delicately disturbing the networks of intersections printed on the paper. A Tetris-like conglomerate and a right angle made from torn bits of rolling paper participate in an imaginary mathematics. One collage resembles a bar graph measuring fabricated data, recalling a line from poet Robert Elstein’s The Hollandaise: “The presentation of data often supersedes the data itself.” I can imagine Rachfal cutting out colorful scientific charts from pages of reports to free their visual beauty from the weight of reference.
At a glance, Rachfal’s arrangements tempt comparisons to Rothko and, while she’s clearly indebted to him, I would argue for some important distinctions between the two artists. Rothko, for all of his formalist impulses, was inspired by myth and tragedy; he declared that he wanted his hovering shapes to “perform,” to transcend their material. Rachfal, on the other hand, seems ultimately concerned with physics and texture. Her paintings are accumulations that build upon themselves in all directions. Look closely at “pulling down the light” and you might notice that the action there is more complex than the title suggests. Composed of paint drips rotated 180 degrees, the upper orange section simultaneously pulls light from the lower cream-colored section and pushes it down with the visual weight of its tone. And, with an equal force, the lighter panel extracts and drains pigment from the darker. “Ka (who?),” best viewed at an angle because of its sculptural quality, reveals thick red edges that play with their own shadows.
Rachfal calls one of her paintings “site of working memory,” a title which illuminates all of her recent work. The abstract compositions not only originate with remembered shapes, but also provide an environment for memory to continue to translate into action. In ridges of paint and cake-batter glazes, in the glow behind reed-like strokes, in a rippling line of graphite, we see the residue of Rachfal’s mental experience. Like a word, a Rachfal painting exhibits a condensed form of its history. Her titles, among the most poetic I’ve ever encountered—“ka (who?),” “ordered disordered,” “vac (word, voice)”—expand rather than contract the possible interpretations of her work. Little magnetic machines, Rachfal’s paintings emit the concentrated energy that was necessary for their creation.
Laura Hunt is an artist living in Brooklyn.