Andrea Belag: Under the Pergola
On ViewNew Collectors Gallery
February 3 – March 17, 2022
The selection in this show of works on paper, which are preparatory to the artist’s larger and brushier paintings, offers a view through a transitory portal of literalness. One that dissipates as the canvas paintings grow in scale towards their exuberant and liberated abstraction. It’s a focused presentation of five gouaches and a monoprint in an intimate setting—allowing a refreshing and rare chance to appreciate an artist’s working process and the individual characteristics of different media within a practice. These gouaches are witty and spontaneous reflections of the nature of the recognizability of form. With names like Seat at the Table, Pergola, Fan, and Solstice (all 2020), there is the implication of an object, and indeed there is a discreet and discernible one contained within Belag’s fluid spectrums of color. But Belag’s form is a shorthand which disappears as the larger paintings tend to focus on texture and color. In the larger canvas works we see a different kind of performative shape determined by the artist’s movement, not clearly based on a preexisting object. So, these are explorations at the very starting point or origin of what we can recognize. Pergola is a gorgeous and simple upturned U. With hieroglyphic directness, the viewer is shown the implied architectural reference. Belag then highlights the overarching-ness of the shape with a lemony yellow stripe and fills upper regions of her arch with pendulous buds in pink, aqua, and red. Color is clearly preeminent over shape, but here it has not overrun its side of the equation.
Implicit in Belag’s approach to these studies is the mutability of form and color. She draws directly on the paper with lugubrious strokes full of pigment, and while there are allowances made for literal differences in the materiality of what she is painting—for example, the differentiation between bud and pergola—the differences are not about the source of the image but are experiments in color combination and complements. In Fan, the artist paints an ambiguous form, part leaf, part flipper, part fan, but the implication is enough to convince the eye of what the title dictates. The object then begins to shift and oscillate: is it revolving around a central point or tracking an arc across the white background of the paper? There is a great deal of room for ambiguity and play within the term “fan.” Solstice follows an alternate strategy. A yellow, red, and magenta sun appears to sit logically on a blue and green horizon. Belag puns on the idea of the solstice being both the longest and the shortest by inserting a ghostly semi-circle at the bottom left—a section of blank paper delineated by a single dark blue curve. On such an intimate scale, this is very much a diagram of a solar event; blown up, it will transform into an interplay of four alternating triangles. But like the solstice itself—for this brief moment, on paper—we can experience the momentary syzygy of heavenly bodies.
Riverdale 2 (2019) is a monoprint which engages most of all with this fertile and ephemeral in-between space where idea morphs into finished painting. Monoprints are wonderful tools because they allow distance between the hand and the finished object while maintaining the spontaneity of a drawing or watercolor. The title, color scheme, and four distinct forms again conspire to imply a literal reading of the image as a geographic location. The monoprint technique has also allowed the artist to inject more texture into her brushstrokes and pools of color, bringing this work a notch closer to her larger paintings, and away from the solid strokes in the gouaches. But the bulbous pale blue, steely blue, gray, and beige regions of this composition are distinct from what they seem to be in the same way that words are an abstraction of what they signify. This is perhaps the primary take-away from Under the Pergola: the extraordinary transience that exists between what we think we know and what is indeterminate in visual signification.