New York CityBowery Gallery
October 1 – October 26, 2019
Hearne Pardee maintains a double life: one in the suburbs of Davis, California, where he teaches in the university’s fine arts department and another in New York City, where he keeps a studio on the edge of Harlem and maintains contacts in the city’s art world. Educated at Yale and Columbia, and a recognized art critic, Pardee has worked out an aesthetic that belongs as much to looking and reading as it does to his investigations in painting, drawing, and collage. Yet his art is far from being pedantic and scholarly; comprising a multivalent array of exercises that include straight landscapes, landscapes with collage elements and small, flat areas of paint, and pure abstractions, a number of them divided into quadrants incorporating collaged paper and abstract graphite effects. This show amounts to a small retrospective of recent work—Pardee is someone who works with various aesthetics, balancing nonobjective nuance with realist studies of the suburban landscape he is accustomed to. The show is particularly effective if it is seen as a compendium of the consequences of modernism, which subtly overhangs the show.
In Morning (2017), we see a traditional backyard view—a bare brown tree with limbs branching outward on the right, situated on a bright green sheet of grass in the middle, which is headed by brown, leafless tree structures, and above which is a pale blue sky. In the foreground is a lighter area, likely sand or dirt, whose forms are made complicated by a series of colored squares driving vertically down the middle of the painting. These squares are then flanked on either side by darker patches of brown and mauve, as arbitrary and abstract as the squares of paint in a work by Hans Hoffmann. Underneath the composition is the pure abstraction of a color key, painted in small squares in a horizontal line. The combination of landscape and nonobjective areas are successful as visual—indeed, cultural—oppositions nicely pulled together by Pardee, who does this a lot in his art. But in West (2019), naturalism is not touched by abstraction. A stone garden occupies the lower half of the painting. According to the artist, this is a miniature Stonehenge, in which vertical stones four feet high encircle a central rock (for this writer, the association also carries to the stones cemented by Joseph Beuys in New York’s Chelsea). The upper half is filled with foliage, light and dark green, beyond which we see an open field and steel structures, ostensibly for play.
In the two above compositions, Pardee is working out a language and a technique that would do justice to both his experience of the California landscape and to his ongoing interests in the theories and advances of recently active writers. There isn’t so much of a theoretical bend in these paintings, but one can feel it hovering over their factures in an interesting manner. In his abstract work, Pardee is often interested in the grid: RGB (2019) and Painted Grid (2019) both exemplify an ad hoc skill in rendering rough gridded areas, both of them organized according to four formats, itself a grid in a larger sense. RGB is very simple, with thin straight lines set down, from clockwise upper left, in red, blue, black, and green. The more complicated Painted Grid consists of four quarters of mostly straight lines, with the exception of the lower-left quadrant, which processes curves into right-angled forms. The two works evidence Pardee’s interest in the non-objective structure of modernist art: its wish to reach an impartiality not found so easily in figuration.
Finally, two complicated abstractions of landscape, called Landscape and Interchange (both 2019) make use of the grid and the spiraling curves of a bikeway path, respectively, to point out complexities of shape and color we don’t necessarily associate with such structures. Landscape looks very abstract, with many geometric forms, usually green and red, but also white and yellow, with the collaged colors establishing a bit of near anarchy on what is also a very organized painting. In Interchange, a rough, irregular grid filled with right-angled and organic brown shapes is highlighted by bits of red occupying the margins and the edges of the painting. Pardee’s hand is light here, but there is always the depth of modernist art behind these two works, and the show itself. Pardee is both a scholar and a visionary whose craft enables him to push forward histories of art he knows very well. As a result, we appreciate the surface of what he does, but we also recognize at once that the work’s aura belongs to his penchant for tradition, both recent and historical.