If artwork has the capacity to communicate, does it follow that art might also be capable of conversation? There is certainly plenty of evidence for works of art engaging in various types of dialogue when placed in proximity, but of course this isn’t a matter of verbal exchange. Rather, it’s a question of affectation and perception. How does seeing one painting influence the way another is seen? The three-person exhibition, Andrew Gbur, Keltie Ferris, Jackie Saccoccio, presents an opportunity to muse on that curiosity. As the press release reads, “the installation is a conversation between large paintings.”
On ViewEleven Rivington
September 7 – October 16, 2011
To be precise, the show brings together five abstract paintings, none with a side smaller than six feet. They command nearly all the wall space available in this modestly sized gallery, making it a challenge to view any single piece on its own. Although each of the painters has his or her own distinct approach to abstraction, there are certainly points of overlap—moments when the visual language of one piece rhymes with a certain section in another.
Of the five paintings on view, Andrew Gbur’s two pieces are the most eye-popping and premeditated. Gbur, the youngest of the group, is working out of Op Art’s legacy for visual distortion, with a penchant for colored lines that calls to mind early efforts by Frank Stella. Unlike Saccoccio and Ferris, Gbur’s process leaves little room for the play of intuition. He uses painter’s tape to section off neat stripes that move diagonally across the canvas in a repeating green-red-blue-yellow sequence. The successive contrast is jarring, like a pulsing staccato. Rather than oils or acrylics, Gbur applies screen printing ink, which doesn’t hold a hard edge and has a washy, semi-translucent quality. His two paintings, both “Untitled” (2010), face each other from opposite walls and seem to make a complete pair. In one, the colored lines occupy the uppermost three quarters of the canvas. In the other, only the bottom quarter is lined, though there is also a purple splotch in its upper white emptiness, which provides a welcome resting place for eyeballs stressed by Gbur’s linear retinal blitz.
If Gbur’s paintings seem tailored to visual overload despite an abundance of gesso as untainted as a field of freshly fallen snow, Jackie Saccoccio’s contribution—“Left Portrait” and “Right Portrait” (both 2011)—would be the inverse. These are heavily worked canvases full of drips and oozy swaths of paint bleeding into one another that seduce the eye instead of shocking it. Her palette is full of natural hues including light sky blues, mucky ochre, trampled-grass green; and the texture, replete with cracks, bumps, and divots, gives the earthy tones a tangible terrestrial character. The way the paint trickles in every direction across Saccoccio’s canvases hints at her willingness to use gravity as a compositional tool. Her paintings are every bit as exemplary of natural processes as Gbur’s are of industrial ones. What they are meant to be portraits of, however, is totally debatable.
Keltie Ferris is only represented by a single piece, but it has the most ambitious material mixture and the oddest title, “[[[///]]]” (2011). Whereas both Gbur’s and Saccoccio’s surfaces resolve in flat space, Ferris achieves a sense of depth through layering. Beneath a skin of spray-painted dashes in electric yellows and neon blues, there are brushy blocks of magenta, bubble gum pink, and cautionary orange laid down in oil and acrylic. Weaving between these layers are parallel bands of unmixed color—whispering, it might seem, in the direction of Gbur’s loud lines—rubbed on with oil pastels. In almost total opposition to the fluidity of Saccoccio’s style, Ferris employs a hard-edged bluntness that seems at home amongst the right angles of the urban world.
All three of these artists are in various levels of emerging, and so their paintings—though they appear complete in themselves—must represent transitional stages rather than endpoints. In that respect these artworks are on a level ground which tends to make for good company, especially where questions of influence are concerned. The path ahead for Saccoccio and Ferris is perhaps foreseeable; both painters work in a classic abstractionist style based on responsiveness to marks already made. They are explorers, probing their medium, testing techniques, searching, and scrutinizing. This kind of work can be carried out and refined over a lifetime. Serendipity is possible for these two, but considerably less so for Gbur whose painting corresponds more to the order of a mathematical equation than to any generative processes. But as in life, in art anything can happen, and all is open to change. The conversations are boundless.