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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 18-JAN 19

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DEC 18-JAN 19 Issue

Vicky Colombet: Paintings from 2007 – 2018


Vicky Colombet, installation view of Water and Light Series #1402, 2018, Antarctica Series #1378, 2017 and Monet Series #1395, 2018.

Vicky Colombet’s exhibition, Paintings from 2007 – 2018, is serving as a prelude to a major exhibition that will take place at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris in March 2020, for which Colombet will develop a visual dialogue with the great artist. Several of the paintings included in this future show are currently on view. Colombet, a painter of achieved subtlety, is offering a series of pure landscapes—a departure from her earlier work, which suggested stony outcrops and other mountainous depictions. In this group of works, the purely abstract is emphasized: surfaces receive abstract treatments, repetitions of simple forms contrast with their background and add complexity to what otherwise would be read as a monochromatic field.

Installation view of Storm Series #1406, 2018, Water and Light Series #1407, 2018 and Antarctica Series #1367, 2017.

The artist’s paintings are regularly monochromatic, or at least their backgrounds are. The surfaces are enlivened greatly by abstract marks and designs that contrast with the darker colors of the background. In Storm #1406 (2018), for example, a particularly accomplished work has been brought about by the artist’s establishing a black ground, onto which she has imposed a series of white patterns made of small dots and splotches of inchoate form. The groups of free-floating imagery on the surface of the painting lend the work an improvised patina, in which the skeins of imagery exist in unfettered form. In its entirety, the painting exists in a pure abstraction, one that resists easy description. In #1378 Antartica (2017), a squared painting of jade green is embellished with curving lines and blots with irregular edges; the upper left is more open, with a greater number of linear forms, while the right half of the painting is dense with the blots, which sometimes come close to forming a jigsaw-puzzle pattern. This work, like Storm #1406 (2018), is a beautiful study in contrasted tones and color. It brings to the fore Colombet’s ongoing interest in an abstraction that is composed of subtle variations in form, rather than sweeping, bold assertions.

The subtlety of these paintings makes them formally and emotionally complex. The paintings are musical in their display of a feeling born purely of form. In Water and Light Series #1389 (2018), another nearly squared image, we see a ground of dark slate blue, covered with vertical rows of short horizontal strokes, whose white color is luminescent in comparison with the gray of the background. The image might well be that of rippling water, but its nonobjective report also must be acknowledged. Because Colombet has often worked with abstraction based on nature, it is easy to see similar connections in this body of work. It is generally true that the abstractions here are pure, free of references to anything but themselves, but in Water and Light Series #1402 (2018) the association of the bright-blue ground, covered with rippling lines, clearly connects with water. The messy, asymmetric lines, massed together especially on the left-hand side of the composition, offer no general orientation, just a random embellishment whose white hue contrasts beautifully with the blue underneath. Colombet references nature on a regular basis, even in these abstract works. She reminds us that the gap between figuration and abstractions is not as big as one might imagine. Colombet’s paintings are alive with imagination and skill.


Jonathan Goodman

JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 18-JAN 19

All Issues