“Geo” (2009). Oil on canvas,framed, 18 x 14 inches. Courtesy of Lohin Geduld Gallery, New York
“Geo” (2009). Oil on canvas,framed, 18 x 14 inches. Courtesy of Lohin Geduld Gallery, New York

For Archaeo, New York-based artist Kim Uchiyama has set up a few distinct rules. Her medium is oil, the size of her paintings all measure 20 by 16 inches, and her abstract vocabulary is restricted to multiple banners of horizontal stripes. Though not as restrictive as the system employed by Piet Mondrian in the 1920s and 1930s, Uchiyama’s self-imposed rules nevertheless constitute a distinct game plan. Her challenge is to make choices that will allow for expressive variety, which she achieves by taking liberties with her palette, which differs from canvas to canvas, as well as with gesture. Though the horizontal strokes dividing the rectangular canvas into regularly refined segments evoke hard-edged geometric painting, they are made without tools and hence incorporate the animated irregularities that come with the movements of a free hand.

What makes Archaeo successful is its complexity. Each work gains significance in the context of the installation. While one work might be simply melodic, when viewed in this unusual sequence a unique rhythm from painting to painting manifests itself. Surely, each painting embodies a study of material and process, but underneath the structural components, the group transforms into a sophisticated study of the emotional impact of color.

Uchiyama’s palette is largely defined by hues that can be found in nature, including sky and ocean blues, deep forest greens, earth tones, and sun yellow. The overall impression evokes the saturated light of the Mediterranean. While some of the banners are opaque, most are in translucent layers that allow solid grounds to shine through. This generates a sense of depth and atmosphere, loosening the tightness of the overall structure. It also serves in preventing the works from becoming simply decorative.

Ultimately, Archaeo is a meta-show. It is an exhibition of paintings about painting, where each work functions as a contemplation of the medium’s most basic ingredients. In this regard, Uchiyama’s devotion to analysis recalls the seemingly tireless Josef Albers, whose elaborations on color have not lost their influence or impact.

Archaeo is an obvious play on archeology, and considering that archaeology is loosely defined as the study of past human societies through the recovery of cultural and environmental data, one might view the show as the visual excavation of traditional painterly data. One question continuously explored here is how distillations of color define the perception of our physical and emotional environments. It is obvious that Uchiyama is by no means concerned with creating work that appears decisively contemporary. Instead, Archaeo reveals the classic attributes of Modernism. But who would claim that good painting that aims for balance and harmony cannot be timeless?


OCT 2010

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