The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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FEB 2023 Issue

Paul Pagk

Paul Pagk, <em>And thus spoke</em>, 2020. Oil on linen, 76 x 74 inches. Courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery.
Paul Pagk, And thus spoke, 2020. Oil on linen, 76 x 74 inches. Courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery.
On View
Miguel Abreu
January 12 – March 5, 2023
New York

Paul Pagk’s first solo exhibition at Miguel Abreu features a selection of twelve large paintings and thirteen works on paper, mostly made over the last three years, allowing us to appreciate the artist's mature style that fluctuates between control, gesturality, and improvisation. The spacious gallery offers a unique setting to initiate a visual journey into Pagk’s oeuvre. There is a symphony of color with tones, pauses, and an emphasis on the structure of each work that can also be attributed to the natural light coming through the space’s windows. The gallery's architecture accentuates what Miguel Abreu considers an “unusual internal luminosity” in the paintings.

Paul Pagk’s solo show is intriguing as it reflects an artist who has honed his own pictorial language over decades. A detail such as an edge, point, or intersection is enough to distinguish an echo that resonates in the rest of the paintings. Layers of color and strokes reveal an accumulation of decisions the artist made each time he returned to the work to add or subtract elements in pursuit of his dialogue with the work yet to be completed by the viewer.

One of the most notable aspects of this exhibition is Pagk's ability to create mental constructions by depicting what he calls “suggested images within the painting.” The impression of the structures transcends the canvas and reaches our intuition and minds. Within the exhibition, there exists a dialogue that echoes the very architecture of the building and the window panes. One way to approach Pagk’s paintings is to consider each work as a mental construction defined by geometrical forms and an abundant explosion of color. And thus spoke (2020) makes it impossible to overlook the resemblance between concrete buildings and an infinite sky. From a bright red ground, the thick line drafts a structure that alludes to an architectural elevation seen from a side, where it is possible to glimpse its inner nooks and intersections. Although drawing a three-body structure, the line is intended to be an object itself, and the white contour provokes a contradictory effect of weight and density. Elements, like the droplets of gray paint on the left side of the canvas, enable the viewer to follow the linear shape ad infinitum. They act as both a beginning and an end, allowing active participation and passive observation. We are standing before a sculptural object in which the artist reflects his ability to seek the physicality of the painting.

Paul Pagk, <em>Mellow Yellow</em>, 2021. Oil on linen, 76 x 74 inches. Courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery.
Paul Pagk, Mellow Yellow, 2021. Oil on linen, 76 x 74 inches. Courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Each painting is an invitation to look closely and walk around the gallery rooms. Subtle details may complete or contradict one's conversation with the other image. For instance, in Mellow Yellow (2021), titled after Donovan Leitch's song and album released in 1967, a delicate white and sinuous line gives life to a soft horizontal silhouette occupying the upper portion of the canvas. The musicality of this painting is reflected through the round edges that enable a particular flow. At the center, a shape resembling a long droplet defies the gravity within the image, providing an effect of slow melting. It is through a small detail that this work is linked to the painting next to it, Andromeda (2020). Looming from the pink surface, two small blue teardrops appear at the top center of the canvas as an extension of the continuous geometrical composition drawn by a fine blue line delineating the border of the canvas. A diagonal transverses the image, giving way to two parallel diagonals in opposite directions. While the tension of the image is fueled by the mirroring of the rectangular forms on both ends of the central figure, the horizontal threads hold the balance of the painting. Coming from the midpoint of the composition, a thicker white line surrounds certain areas to provide depth. Such details awaken our senses inviting us to move around the work and discover more pictorial elements.

Paul Pagk, <em>4 Triangles</em>, 2019. Oil on linen, 65 x 74 inches. Courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery.
Paul Pagk, 4 Triangles, 2019. Oil on linen, 65 x 74 inches. Courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Occasionally, the forms are unfolded in different planes seeking three-dimensionality. Pagk tests our awareness cunningly by triggering a mental construction. For example, 4 Triangles (2019) is one of the paintings whose intense color captivates the viewer's eyes. The ultramarine and cobalt pigments absorb the natural light activating its surface. This mixture of pigments provides a sense of depth transporting the object to another plane outside the canvas. Drawn by a double white and yellow line, the rendering appears suspended from the background as if it contained the entire canvas. The peach triangle at the center is imposing by its sharpness and shifts our attention to the perpendicular shape, often recognizable in Pagk's body of work, that seems to be the origin of the painting.

Pagk’s solo exhibition showcases the artist’s diverse pictorial vocabulary, in which every element is integral to the work. The gallery bursts in a stunning field of color where the shapes evolve and transform before the viewer's eyes, offering a subjective experience.


Emireth Herrera Valdés

Emireth Herrera Valdés is a curator and writer based in New York City. She holds an MA in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. Her curatorial practice reflects her commitment to socially engaged projects.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

All Issues