Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Framing the Push

Sharon Brant, “An Uncertain Geometry” (2016) Oil stick and alkyd on canvas, 36 x 48 inches Image courtesy Minus Space
Exhibition Review

Sharon Brant: Paintings 2004 Through 2010
Galerie Tanja Grunert
May 5 - June 18, 2016 (extended)
Brant / Brennan / Zinsser
Minus Space
June 4 - July 2, 2016

Sharon Brant’s paintings, from two distinct phases and in two handsome exhibitions, create palpable forces and spaces. At Tanja Grunert in Manhattan, the hard edges of rectilinear forms mostly hug the borders of small, variously sized rectangular paintings, highlighting the material details of the fabric supports. At Minus Space in Brooklyn, Brant’s more recent paintings stretch the canvases into longer horizontal dimensions, and the painted forms relax into themselves, with rougher lines and a more limited palette. Travel across boroughs offers you a mini-survey of powerfully “empty” fields.

Immediately upon entering Galerie Tanja Grunert, I was struck by Brant’s understated command. The artist sometimes coats her fabric supports with a clear medium; sometimes she articulates them with all-over, lush, white brushstrokes through which the raw fibers seem to be straining to surface. These textures become highly noticeable because Brant outlines the space of the canvas using carefully applied, thin lines of colors (black, the primaries, silver) which boldly offset the raw fabrics’ hues: straw, jute, sackcloth, and clay. Her outlines trace the edges of the rectangular pieces, or create a square or rectangle within the larger field. Either way, your attention is made to focus more precisely than in Jo Baer's outlined fields: Brant’s paintings are small enough that you perceive tiny details such as warps in a linen weave, slight diagonal deviations within the border lines, nubs of congealed paint, a crease in the underlying canvas. Works in the back of the exhibition substitute porous graphite lines for the wide painted ones, foreshadowing Brant's movement toward edgeless, drawn forms.

In contrast to the earlier, tentative airiness of the graphite lines, current paintings in the Minus Space exhibition play at full throttle, weaving black or carmine gestural forms into heavily worked white surfaces. They appear to be figures on grounds, but are they? The “background” textures are as malleable and charged as those of the color-saturated lines and shapes. No wonder she calls these works “uncertain geometries”... When Brant layers white over some painted lines, the underlying colors simmer with occult force. While the earlier works had reversed the figure-ground relation, now form and negative space are in constant, fluid interchange. Brant reveals the insistent quality of all matter -- solid (shapes), liquid (paint), or gas (“backgrounds”). And now, when she obscures lines that limn a horizontal edge (don’t miss the painting in the office), the half-buried borders indicate hidden layers of deepened space.* I think of Susan Hefuna’s layered grids, Terri Rolland’s wicket shapes, and the expert freedom of Katherine Bradford’s brushwork.

Coincidentally (?), all the artists I immediately imagined as Brant’s reference points are women. From 1989 until 1996, when she was in her 40s, Brant was a member of the A.I.R. Gallery, created by and for women artists. If Brant's strong, sensitive technique is dubbed feminist / female, is the work constrained or enriched? In any case, now that the New York Times is trending seasoned and laudable women artists, Brant too deserves more recognition.
– Karen Schiff

* The hints of color that sometimes line the outer edges of Brant’s canvases are echoed in Michael Brennan’s oil paintings of ghostly effects on the opposite wall. And while these bodies of work support each other, John Zinsser’s large red square gives the room a center of gravity. (At Tanja Grunert, Brant’s paintings are also presented with other artists’ works, but there the space is organized so that each has a separate exhibition.)

Sharon Brant, “Nov. 9, 2008” (2008)
Acrylic and graphite on linen
Image courtesy Galerie Tanja Grunert

Sharon Brant, "An Uncertain Geometry" (2016)
Oil stick and alkyd on canvas, 18 x 72 inches
Image courtesy Minus Space

Friday, June 3, 2016

Oil And Water

Patrick Shoemaker, Hindrance, 2016
Oil on canvas, 46 x 44 inches
Image courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York
Exhibition Review

February 25 – April 2, 2016

Figures intertwine in Patrick Shoemaker’s paintings, yet it is unclear if any given interaction is a dance or a fight. In Hindrance, a couple tilts this way and that, swinging vertiginously against an ochre background. Are the two locked in a tango, or are we witnessing the final blow of a wrestling bout? The painting’s title suggests the second, but the image looks incongruously joyful. In other works in this exhibition, the contest is between a person (or multiple people) and an animal, such as in Beast Beating, where five figures dressed in glowing yellow, red, and blue, grapple with a bear-like animal against a maroon and pink background. Altogether “Fire On Fire,” the artist’s first-ever solo exhibition, featured fourteen small to medium-sized paintings ranging from 15x13 inches to 58x58 inches.

While the works are not exactly narrative, visual themes and archetypes recur, including the fire of the show’s title. Flower forms crop up throughout the paintings, perhaps more symbolic than real, since they always conform to the idea of a cartoon rose or a tulip shape. Water takes on the feeling of a freighted symbol: Bringing Water is a close-up of a person carrying what looks like a book, but could be a fire bucket. The figure in Soft Traipse certainly carries a bucket. Translucent layers in the paintings look like water as they interact. Many works contain “rays” like those in Charles Demuth’s My Egypt, where the picture is sliced into subtly different-colored wedges. In Pour, one of the larger works, such a layer turns objects a different color, from burnt sienna to pinkish beige.

Shoemaker’s surfaces are thickly painted in oil so that no texture of the canvas shows through. The compositions fit tightly together like jigsaw puzzles. Surfaces are glossy, but at the same time soft. Contours are blended with a dry brush to leave feathered, irregular edges, and colors glow through the shallow spaces between different layers of depth. Shoemaker’s figurative paintings recall Milton Avery’s: solid planar backgrounds, broad simple shapes, and figures with no faces. Like Avery, or Bob Thompson, he uses colors with lots of white added to them. Rather than being pretty, here the colors create a somber effect.

Sometimes the artist uses background patterns that gesture toward Matisse, as with the rough plant-like forms of Zig Zag. The lower part of Red Boot is taken up by a shape that echoes one of the modernist master’s cut-outs: palm or seaweed, divided into sections of pink, green, and blue. The unmodulated flatness and anonymity of Shoemaker's shapes and figures, instead of making them generic, allow them to feel universal and timeless, even iconic. The paintings grab hold of you quietly and insistently, and their vibrations mesmerize. Shoemaker manages to evoke something ghostly, wistful, and genuinely moving.

--Jeff Frederick

Patrick Shoemaker, Beast Beating, 2015
Oil on canvas, 48 x 46 inches
Image courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

Patrick Shoemaker, Pour, 2016
Oil on canvas, 54 x 44 inches
Image courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York