The New Abstractionists VI
The creative vision of the four artists in this exhibition inspires a dynamic active response, engaging both the heart and the mind. While the paintings and photographs reflect their individual talents, the works themselves are varied in terms of style, technique, and approach. A dominant concern for all of them, however, is the interplay between recognizable forms and abstract shapes. The absence of a tangible human presence is also common characteristic of these pictures, although reverberations of intelligent life abounds in all of them.
Wayne Herpich’s accomplished oil paintings carry the viewer to a multi-colored wonderland of free-form zig zag patterns of high intensity. The gently rounded horizontal rows of brightly hued interlocking shapes cover the entire surface of the four foot square format from edge to edge and from top to bottom.
The compressed panoply of colorful strokes evoke densely foliated landscapes or townscapes, yet the tautly edged forms exhibit the quality of decorative ornament. The paintings contain no sky or ground and no narrative. The organization of the picture is antithetical to the hard-edge geometry of minimalism in spite of numerous razor sharp forms. The irregular rippling surface of alternating colors consists of jagged organic shapes which are similar in spirit to the opulence of Persian carpets. The application of paint recalls the technique of George Seurat and the Pointillists with small daubs of prismatic paint conveying a beat-like rhythm. The high key intensity of Herpich’s contrasting hues project an unmatched energy and vitality of unmixed pigment applied directly from the tube.
Bill Jackson’s monotonic photographs of planar grasslands and reedy ponds are extraordinary studies of atmospheric natural landscape. His well ordered compositions, centered on strong horizontal masses, capture a mood of peaceful serenity and harmony of early morning light. By isolating the dark foliage of reeds beneath the effulgent brightness of a shining sky, a double image of the subject and its reflected shadow gives maximum emphasis to the linear contours of the central dark solid form. The sharp focus of slender reeds set against the softening periphery os sky and water are desaturated in what pioneering photographer Peter Henry Emerson described as “differential focusing.” Jackson’s frieze-like compositions perfectly balance long-leaf reed shafts of marshlands with the surrounding negative space. These fragile bird and animal habitats, with their narrow bending diagonals, radiate a paradox of energy and stasis, but tend more toward contemplation than emotion.
Mally Khorasantchi’s expansive embrace of the natural ecology range from delicately rendered oils on paper evoking the fecundity of the earth to bold oils on canvas of the life aquatic. With both series she creates images of natural phenomenon which imaginatively capture the genesis, growth, and unfolding movement of life on earth. Employing a loose, boneless technique in her Grain and Cream series, her agitated, nervous line generates an ambiguous shallow space where all superfluous details have been eliminated. The endless cycle of life from dawn to dusk, seed to grain, cows to cream, breakfast to dinner are active, concrete functions of the natural world which she equates to the inner life of the mind and spirit. The fragile contours of the liquid and granulated forms are evenly balanced by the congenial graded shades of burnt umber, indigo, and white.
In her delectably colored large-scale reinventions of undersea life Khorasantchi uses a more detailed and complex composition and broader color range which depict the hidden mysteries of the deep. The swirling motion of pulsating life forms contain not only fish, coral, and shells, but also birds, honeycombs, and bumble bees. These submerged species appear to emerge from exploding cold and warm currents and evolve into all manner of fauna and flora from both land and sea.
Merrill Steiger’s deft manipulation of multiple forms in space speaks to the crucial importance of the relationship of one object to another or one to several others across a broad spectrum. From 2009 to the present she has been working on a series of acrylic paintings entitled Worlds Collide. In these master works Steiger explores the interplay between the micro and macro levels of the universe. Her uncommon juxtapositions of fragmented forms convey a surreal ambiance which effectively stretches the imagination.
These forms and objects are transformed from the ordinary by unexpected reductions or expansions of scale and by their unanticipated viewpoints within the picture plane. Her colliding worlds are explosive and expansive in a continuous state of flux, incorporating new contexts for religion and science which remain in surprising equilibrium. Her fragmented, convoluted energy systems are informed by a keen sense of comparative literature, anthropology, archaeology, and contemporary popular culture, yet eschew a precise reading narratively or symbolically. Inspired by spiritual power spots from all corners of the earth, Steiger’s cosmic vision unlocks universal links between the microscopic and the extrasensory.
The artists’ in this exhibition possess a signature style involving recognizable forms from the visible world which often approach the threshold of abstraction, yet not to the point of non-objectivity. Each artist has staked out a territory which is distinctive whether that territory comprises a series of colorful arching forms, reflective reedy wetlands, submarine life, seeds and cream, or the remnants of civilization in cosmic space. These pictures succeed in captivating the viewer into the artists singular world. Their collective achievement transports the viewer to private worlds of astonishment and wonder.
Robert P. Metzger, Ph.D
Robert Metzger, Director Emeritus of the Reading Museum, served in that capacity at the Aldrich Museum. the Allentown Art Museum, and the Stamford Museum and worked as Curator for collectors W. Hawkins Ferry. Lydia Winston Malbin, and Richard Brown Baker. He taught at the University of Detroit and Bucknell University and studied at Columbia, U.C.L.A.,Concordia, Wayne University, and the Victorian School in London. He is the author of Reagan: American Icon, Abstract Expressionism Lives, Edward Hopper: Early Impressions, Franz Kline: the Jazz Murals, St. Petersburg Realism, and British Romantic Art and monographs on Arakawa, Nakian, Stamos, Boghosian, Tobin, Stubbs, Stuempfig, Murray, Namingha, Meneeley, Press, Coyer, and Strauser among others.