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Three new shows of abstract paintings in New York share a musicality and colorful beauty that merit a mid-winter’s visit.
The first is painter Margaret Garrett’s rich exhibit of paintings on view at Birnam Wood Galleries’ Chelsea location through February 15. While this is Garrett’s first solo exhibit in New York, she has participated in many group shows in the city and has established a following on the East End of Long Island.
Though Garrett’s paintings revel in color and fluidity, she also places an emphasis on mark-making, doing so with both the precision and playful ease with which a composer might jot notes in a new score or a choreographer’s elegant gestures might bring a new dance to life.
As the exhibition materials note, before she became a painter, Garrett was professional ballet dancer and her husband, with whom she has collaborated on several theatrical and operatic endeavors, is a composer. The influences of dance and both jazz and classical composition are manifest in her work.
It is not surprising to discover that Garrett’s studio gives onto the beach, (She lives year round on Shelter Island), as many of the vibrant, joyful paintings evoke the texture and patterns of light and wind on the surface of open water.
In fact, the longer I gazed in particular at her many pieces that are steeped in shades of blue, the more I was brought back to the images from a favorite film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, the 1960 documentary juxtaposing performances from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with scenes of the that year’s America’s Cup yacht races. This is especially true of the large-scale oil-on-linen entitled Tuning Fields 276 (2012) and its smaller acrylic-on-paper brethren Tuning Fields 224, Tuning Fields 246, andTuning Fields 247 (all from 2011).
“When I started the series I was thinking of fields of vibration and how they interact and create harmony with one another,” said Garrett after her show’s opening when asked about her titles, “And I liked the musical idea behind ‘tuning’ because they are sort of physical fields of movement and vibration.”
Indeed, there’s a rhythmic buzz to these works, almost all of which extend to the edges of the canvas or paper on which they are painting, as if the frames cannot hold the energy they contain.
Then there is the truly elegant display of work from the last year by Pennsylvania-based artist Emil Lukas at Sperone Westwater Gallery. Although not widely known in the United States, Lukas has shown his work throughout Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy, including as part of the renowned Panza Collection in Varese.
Lukas “paints” his so-called thread paintings, to which half of the show is devoted, by drawing intricate skeins of various colored polyester threads across his canvases.
(The show also comprises one other series, what Lukas called his “larvae paintings.” Jeff Koons’ dozens of studio assistants cannot compare to the millions of fly larvae Lukas lets loose to eat patterns as they will into freshly painted canvas.)
These thread paintings can read like musical instruments, nearly throbbing with a tympanic tautness. Five of those on view have a glowing circle-within-a-square motif that seems to invert Anish Kapoor’s widely exhibited, seemingly floating, two-dimensional, fiberglass wall sculptures. The luminous orbs in these five works appear to be lit from within. Like James Turrell, Lukas can seem like an illusionist, optimizing light, color and the shifting angle of the viewer to create a unique and elusive optical experience.
Unfortunately, as Lukas said when we toured the gallery minutes before the show’s opening, “Historically I make work that is impossible to photograph.” He’s right on this count. No image I’ve seen has been able to capture either the ethereal luminosity or complexity of craftsmanship of the thread paintings.
In the exhibit’s accompanying catalog, Lukas noted that he was “first attracted to thread” when traveling in Germany in the late eighties where he remembers seeing huge racks with hundreds of spools in different colors on display in garment stores and drugstores. “The dramatic visual effect fascinated me.”
“For me the thread paintings are about color. They’re about compositions of color, light, reflection, and opacity. They’re much closer to formal wet-on-wet watercolor paintings than they are to anything in the textile field.”
That rings true, because despite the materials, there’s nothing artsy-craftsy about these works. If, like me, you’ve ever admired the artistry of a handmade drum or marveled at the inside of a piano, you will especially like Lukas’ work.
Finally, there are Melissa Meyer’s colorful paintings of varying sizes on view through February 15 at the Lennon, Weinberg gallery in Chelsea.
The musicality here derives from the fact that one of Meyer’s inspirations is Bob Dylan, specifically his orthography.
Last year, Meyer came across several sheets of the musician’s handwritten lyrics on display when his electric guitar was shown at Christie’s. Meyer found herself fascinated by Dylan’s handwriting and what it revealed about his temperament, believing it displayed “a kind of urgency and tension,” she said.
Those traits are reflected in Meyer’s painterly extrapolations. Making confident use of varying shades and tones of indigo and yellow especially, her work has a calligraphic quality but with the lines overlapping, intertwining and crowding each other with sometimes spiky and sometimes loopy gestures, as in real handwriting.
Meyer has entitled several of the paintings after dance steps: Box Step, Do-Si-Do, and Shuffle and several others use musical terminology as well.
This is Meyer’s third solo exhibition at Lennon, Weinberg. Her work is included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Jewish Museum and many other public and private collections across the United States.