Leonard Hutton Galleries
January 20, 2017 to February 15, 2017
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, JUN. 2017
Vicky Colombet is a French-American artist who lives and works in New York City and in upstate New York. A highly gifted artist, she paints in a manner that combines the study of natural appearances with an equally focused exploration of the nonobjective implications of modernist influence. This exhibition was the first public showing of her drawings. Her true preference is conjoining the abstract possibilities of her studies with visual attributes of the natural world, merging or overlapping them in ways that echo her interest in Asian painting.
One of the truisms of art is that we can never rule out abstraction in figuration, nor the other way around. Colombet is particularly interesting because her art continues a dialogue between the two ways of seeing, preferencing neither in favor of a synthesis of both. The abstraction found in her drawings in Time Travel was multi-referential, instilling a complexity of motive and attention that makes them unusually eloquent works of art. Indeed, Colombet has successfully visualized a cultural field in which means of perception and the influence of different cultural biases, French and American, Asian and Western, contribute to an understanding that seems to hover in mid-air, in free-floating insight, just as the imagery in her drawing does.
Drawings are likely the most transparent of artworks; it is highly difficult to rework them—one usually has to stick to the decisions that have been made. Colombet demonstrated exquisite control over the attributes of her chosen medium. Her “Dialogue” series, which included an expressive study of rock faces on top and a smaller line drawing beneath that echoes the forms above it, built a common platform between the jagged density of stone croppings and a smaller, lyric vision of them, whose force derived primarily from cultural trappings. We haven’t seen such a poetic version of stone in some time!
Colombet, who has hiked long distances in the mountains of France, possesses a knowledge of nature perhaps not so well understood by the urban viewers of her art. But little matter: it became clear that the vision of these crags could be seen metaphorically, as well as actually, although their true presence was finally based in real materials. In Dialogues No. 45 (2016), the large drawing on the top consisted of lights and darks, smudges and lines, that built a complex structure before us. They edged toward a geometry of finesse, as well as a portrait of raw form. Beneath it, the small drawing represented the culmination of smallish, rounded peaks, very much in the Chinese manner. As Colombet intimated in her title, the two works established a conversation.
While the artist does borrow from alternate visual approaches, it is also clear that her doing so is not a matter of theft, but of praise. We are living in a time when appropriation in imagery is entirely accepted, to the point where it is hard to tell who comes from where in the imagery we see. Clearly, Colombet is a Western artist, but the Asian touches making their way into her sensibility echo gracefully in her vision. The Chinese understood abstraction in nature centuries ago, and Colombet’s meticulous use of their perception opens up possibilities for an awareness reaching beyond our immediate surroundings.
Brumes (Mists) No. 2x (2011-16) was a small drawing in which red ink, describing rock faces, overlapped black lines similar in form. The two sets of linear patterns arced over and supported each other in ways that approximated a general pattern without repeating it. Floating in the middle of the paper, the image hung in the air without a base, a decision by Columbet that both isolated it and freed it from conventional display. It was a contemporary choice on her part, one that forced us to see the forms abstractly, even though they looked representational at first.
A large untitled work of 2016 was composed of oil, alkyd, and wax on canvas. Its forms were rendered in a light blue that seemed to catch light from an outside source. The patterns could have indicated massed clouds, a dry stream filled with gravel, or an airplane window’s view of mountains far below. In the final account, nature is always preeminent in Colombet’s lyric vocabulary. But the complexity of her understanding always pushe her art toward a nonobjective reality as well. Surely, the artist, now mature in her practice, cannot turn her back on the achievement of modernism. The way her drawings balanced between several visions at once gave them an intricacy and also a force that moves quite a bit beyond both the details and gestalt of their depiction. How many current artists are turning their attention toward nature in a way that does not describe its decay? In usual fashion Colombet echoed art history, likely cubism, to demonstrate the enduring strength of natural phenomena. This is not an easy task in the first quarter of the 21st century. Colombet has demonstrated that she understands far better than most the need to keep alive not only nature itself, but our vision of it, however damaged it may be by lifestyle and technology.
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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