Peninsula Gallery hosts Bending Form and Color through Aug. 30
Titling the current exhibition at Peninsula Gallery Bending Form and Color (through Aug. 30), gallery owner BJ Clark suggested that this exhibition pushed his gallery into territory not regularly seen on its walls. Indeed, the color in this show is quite bold and its forms suggest rather than actually depict the natural world we generally find realistically rendered on these walls. But I suggest that with a lingering look at these works most everyone can find some entry into this painterly world that explores landscape as a kind of mindscape and where a sense of place is found in the painting process itself.
Essentially abstract, this group show by three artists from Asheville, N.C., is jammed with facility and expertise. Mark Bettis, Karen Weihs and Vicky Pinney share a similar sensibility - with Bettis and Pinney clearly showing related aesthetic DNA. All three evidence a thorough familiarity with the direction taken by American painting of the last half century, following on great modernist beginnings in Europe. Each artist has a personal style linked to the cutting-edge formal process of painting but, eschewing the avant-garde, they prefer to make beautiful, approachable and accessible paintings. And who can blame them? Even artists need to make a living.
Each artist has a different gift to offer. Karen Weihs’ paintings offer the easiest entry largely because they remain essentially abstracted and offer expressive views of her landscape/cityscape scenes. Her colors are bold but pleasing; there are familiar if not exactly recognizable structures and her horizons ground the work in an interpretation of the ‘real’ world. Given that invitation, we can enter the painting and ride her energized, knife-driven slides of pigment as they careen and collide over her surfaces.
Weihs’ “Save a Horse/Ride a Cowboy” may be her most aggressive work. It has a classic modernist stance - an essentially cubist structure acting as an armature for her beefy blocks of color (nicely reminiscent of Hans Hofmann.) Its linear sweep might suggest a fence line, the edge of an arena or the ranch itself stretching to the horizon. The painting is a rodeo in its own right: color combinations reach back into art history striking chords with early Fauves, her stack of shapes recall Nicolas de Stael, and the painting’s overall vivacity might be a Western sunset itself.
Vicky Pinney makes paintings with rare nuance and subtle power. Her ability to layer painterly activity, marks and patterns creates lush works whose surfaces are as packed with information as ancient stone and old temples, yet they rise freshly to a surface that is radiant and revealing.
“Aftermath” orchestrates Pinney’s mark-making and takes it to an aggressive level along the painting’s borders and edges. Invasive shapes coil and curl in the upper right corner of the work as activity in the middle left of the painting suggests seismic or atmospheric disturbance. All is held in check, barely subsumed by the glowing white field above. Might it be ash or is it snow, smoke or acid rain?
Mark Bettis rounds out this three-part exhibition with works both large and small. His ability to imbue small works with the power of their larger brethren shows his skill and ability with the scale and scope of contemporary painting. Richly inflected compositions reward the closer look and defy the old notion that bigger is better, especially in abstract work.
“Moon Song,” at 20-by-20-inches, is a relatively small work, but it is huge at heart - and arguably the most sophisticated painting in the exhibition. A whole universe of possibilities may be explored as this painting struts its stuff. Hovering over the right edge are layered markings that suggest calibrations and topographies. Fretted linearities could be weights and measures, but the somewhat obsessive orb-like incisions (moon cycles or sun positions?) offer astrological alternatives. A luminous white veil descends to hide true revelation, just obscuring the information that might finally solve this puzzle.
Somehow much of it remains a mystery. But a mystery worth coming to see and to explore. All is rarely revealed. Answers are hard to come by. Sometimes, new ways to ask age-old questions are as close to consolation as we may find. As in life, such is the nature of good abstract art.