By JONATHAN GOODMAN, JUL. 2017
June 30 - July 23, 2017
56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206
The two artists in this show—Debra Drexler and Lucas Moran—both make use of the Galkyd medium, which enables them to extend painting and quicken drying time. They use this capricious medium to great effect; by painting over the same area a number of times, the colors begin to interact in unusual ways. In the work of Drexler, who repeats pigmented Galkyd over synthetic paint which is itself submerged in acrylic media, abstract paintings of unusual luminosity and fluid verve result. In Moran's art, one often finds wrinkles in the surface of the painting, which are the result of paint drying on top of paint that is still wet. Drexler and Moran’s interest in the medium, though, seems more or less technical, in the sense that both artists clearly reference the long tradition of American abstraction. Indeed, the fluid abstractions of these painters--Drexler especially--link them to the well-established legacy of the New York School (it makes sense that Moran lives in Brooklyn and that Drexler, a professor of art in Hawaii, has established a second studio in New York for several years). The strength of the show thus is both historical and contemporary. The consequences of their practice are somewhat academic in the sense that they are passing over heavily traveled terrain, but their motives are well intended, and, more important, they paint well.
Drexler, a painter of impressive fluidity and intuitive compositional style, presents luscious, deliberately beautiful canvases that are quite seductive in their painterly effusion. Usually, as her audience moves from one work to the next, they feel a sense of interrelatedness. This connectedness is more emotionally compelling than the often sterile ties we find in the repetitive work of a movement like the Minimalists, who often offer a rather cerebral bridge joining one sculpture to the next. But Drexler is in pursuit of something else: namely, the presentation, in abstraction, of a coherent vision based on emotion. It seems to me that all good art, even in the most intellectual artists and writers, is ultimately based on the communication of emotion. Ideas and a conceptual point of view may structure or extend the implications of the art we see, but their use does not deliver the high communicative properties of an art that can speak to everyone (at least in theory!). Now that we have decided that artistic populism is more accurate as a reading of our time, it is more accurate to see current art as being more anti-intellectual than based on feeling. This bias, of course is only one of many interpretations explaining why contemporary art tends to switch from a kind of cold abstraction (witness the effect of conceptual art) to an equally constraining understanding of art as a pure vehicle. We are truly between a rock and a hard place. The push toward a populist outlook in America (especially in the themes of the fine arts, which continue to favor identity art despite its decades of supremacy as a methodology) has excluded us from the benefits of high culture, which often rejects accessibility in favor of a demanding content and expression.
But this debate is not truly Drexler’s problem, whose art addresses beauty itself as a viable path. Her choice puts her on the edge of decoration, which indeed does sometimes trouble the expressiveness she seeks out. But this aspect is not necessarily a fault so much as it is a consequence of the highly limited space artists have today when they work within the language of lyric abstraction. Pink and Orange Summit (2017), rendered with acrylic and oil, is a brightly colored organic abstract work, both indebted to and having broken from the history that precedes it. Composed of large areas of pink and reddish orange on the upper two-thirds of the composition, the work also offers inchoate passages of blue, green, and red on the lower portion. Pink and Orange Summit is a highly romantic painting whose flourishes are based entirely upon color. It quite accurately describes the spirit of abstract art today, in which painting is struggling to break free of the constraints of time. Drexler expresses said spirit quite well in this painting.
Drexler’s Blue Spoon, a gifted composition of undulating vertical lines in red and pink, is another example of Drexler’s penchant for lyric abstraction. In the far right a spoon-like image, painted a deep blue, exists in contrast with the colors to its immediate left. On the far left of the painting, the viewer encounters an inspired combination of reddish, pinkish vertical stripes, as well as patches of blue and an eccentric, spiky gold patch of paint. As in most of Drexler’s work, the tone is optimistic, and even joyous. Solar Blue (2017) realizes the artist’s interest in a busy all-over compositional style. A compendium of competing shapes and colors, the painting is organized along a nearly anarchic placement of reds and blues, especially. The shapes are inchoate and organic and seem to relate to de Kooning’s inspired, if slightly infantile, rejection of measured form. Drexler's art makes it clear that there is a need in contemporary art, for artists as well as their audiences, for a kind of work that would give to solace people on the basis of beauty alone. It of course can be argued that such a point of view is, in today’s world, an excuse for escapism, but when has there not been a predilection for art that pleases. Drexler’s style is both honest and well intended, so it must be considered in light of its enthusiastic, even effusive accomplishments, rather than denying its exuberance and pleasure.
Moran’s abstractions, interestingly, are not completely abstract. Instead, he engages his viewers from the vantage point of a combination of recognizable objects and a lyric abstraction not entirely different from Drexler’s. His forms are more sharply outlined that those found in Drexler’s paintings, though. In the work entitled Yellow Vase (2017), Moran offers a recognizable vase with a yellow rim, surrounded by angular abstract shapes that framing the ceramic object. The composition is dense with activity, projecting a nearly chaotic array of forms. In this painting, everything seems to happen at once. Still, the centralizing presence in the painting is the vase, whose purpose, even without flowers, and clearly existent weight center the work in ways we do not at first see clearly. Cauldron in a Kiln (2017) also follows Moran’s interest in mixing recognizable objects with abstract passages of painting. It is easy enough to recognize the kiln and the vase being fired, as the visuals are very accessible. But the reddish fires surrounding the brown vase also serve as areas of nonobjective areas of interest, energizing the composition and transforming it from a straightforwardly recognizable figurative work to an image of greater complexity. Atmosphere is central to the painting, whose elements compel us to view it as a small inferno. We can almost feel the radiant heat. At the same time, its abstraction give the composition an additional orientation, one in which Moran joins a more contemporary point of view.
A two-person show such as this one gives us the chance to contemplate the present state of abstraction, and to consider in which direction it might develop in the future. Drexler and Moran’s efforts belong to a general trend—one in which the by-now heavy historical weight of abstract expression is lightened by a poetic re-envisioning of an artistic past that reached its high point several generations ago. The art made then was different from work even seemingly similar in a stylistic sense made now: people were living on the ege, and it showed. Now it is nearly impossible to remove contemporary abstraction in New York from its precedents, increasing the danger of facile repetition. No matter, though, in this exhibition; my comments are given mostly to those practicing in the time come, when a sense of strong déja vu will surely come to pass (indeed, it has already). Drexler and Moran successfully evade these problems of lineage and precedent by adjusting history to their own particular needs, and it is this particularity that saves their efforts from mere quotation. All in all, “Galkyd! Galkyd” was a very good show of two painters determined to work according to their own nature, eschewing America’s extraordinary abstract past for a new non-objectivity, in which the current sensibilities of the time are rendered in an open manner. WM
Johnathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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