Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Planes of Abstraction, Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockport, Maine, October 14 - December 19, 2009

Don Voisine, Winston Roeth, Scott Davis, Jeff Kellar, and Duane Paluska

Simple and distinct
Solid, serious abstractions at CMCA
By KEN GREENLEAF | November 11, 2009

“Planes of Abstraction” at the Maine Center for Contemporary Art brings together five artists with broad experience who share a common interest in a simplified image. They are otherwise quite different from one another in their purposes and methods. The artists are Don Voisine, Winston Roeth, Scott Davis, Jeff Kellar, and Duane Paluska.

In Voisine’s “Veer,” two broad, nearly black shapes cross each other in the space between two narrow lines of yellow ochre along the painting’s top and bottom borders. The black masses create a sense that the painting is an object. That’s an illusion, of course, and as you look at the painting the feeling of mass conflicts with the plain fact that these are large areas of paint, creating an expressive tension. Of all the works in the show, Voisine’s are the most abstract, in that they exist as a statement outside any concrete reality or rhetorical reference.

Roeth’s paintings, by contrast, are not conceptually abstract at all. Here he shows three distinct modes: “Split Blue Square,” two related blue rectangular panels hung one over the other; “Savannah Moon,” a square dark painting with a few concentric circles; and “Sorcerer,” 12 slate roofing shingles hung in a three-by-four grid, each painted a different color.

Roeth’s works are primarily about light. The two halves of “Split Blue Square” are distinguished not so much by their color as by the light emanating from them — their moods are distinct, and it makes gives them an expressive shimmer. Even in “Sorcerer,” where the chipped edges of the slates and holes for the mounting nails are make it clear they are mundane objects, the overall effect is one of opulent light radiating from some inner source.

Davis’s paintings are images that refer to something other than the work itself. He creates a scene whose content is spare but hints at some reality outside normal experience. “Parapet” is a field of blue with a geometric yellow shape along its bottom border that resembles a parapet as seen from below. But something is off — the perspective seems right, but isn’t, quite. It’s as if the painting was correct and our normal notions of perspective don’t apply. Davis is subtly bringing us into his own universe with its own rules, while providing us with a semiotic sign we can’t quite grasp.

Kellar’s works are almost non-corporeal, the opposite of Voisine’s. They are done with a special coating on aluminum and seem to float in space an inch off the wall. This is a deliberate strategy — he’s gone to great lengths to direct the viewer’s attention away from seeing it as a painting and toward his actual content, which is the interplay of a subtle surface with line or color. In “Folded” the upper third of the painting is red, the bottom is white, and there’s a shallow angle in the border between them. It feels a little folded; the tension between that illusion and the soft, tangible surface is central to his work.

Paluska’s painted wood sculptures are more complex. The linear elements of his constructions join at angles that render them slightly skewed away from where familiar perspective would put them if they were, say, a chair tipped over. In “Blue Moon” a flat segment of a circle is held vertically on wooden framework. As you walk around the piece you see its edge as it aligns, and then doesn’t, with the angles of the structure. The effect is a subtle dimensional unfolding and refolding and unfolding again.

It’s an uncommon treat, in these parts, to see a show of the work of highly accomplished, veteran abstract artists gathered into one room. Much of what we see today is shallow, noisy, and meant to overwhelm for a moment. These works are quiet, focused, and deep enough to reward close attention and extended thought.

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