Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Autumnal equinox and 'New Image' abstraction

21 September 2007

It’s an appropriately autumnal day – cool, overcast, threatening rain – but unusual for this time of the year in L.A. (related, I think, to some hurricane activity in Mexico and the Gulf). The autumnal equinox passes placidly here (discounting real estate uncertainties in the hills just above me and on the far sides of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys), even as another sort of equinox seems to pass with some violence, yet almost unnoticed by an American Congress that is almost perfectly oblivious to any political or economic actuality – to say nothing of history. The currency revaluations (the dollar at a new low against the Euro), the Blackwater diplomatic shuttle massacres (American diplomats and apparatchiks apparently can’t move without Iraqis dying) are really just the tip of this iceberg heading straight for our Titanic of a Republic. It was almost hilarious to listen on the radio to Lindsey Graham (the Republican senator from South Carolina) justify his vote (in line with the cowardly, possibly pre-senile, John Warner) against the bi-partisan military appropriations bill with the Webb amendment that would have slowed the pace of deployment and given troops additional recuperation time away from battle zones – effectively phasing out this bloody debacle by saving the military for another day (and alas another war, I guess). After considering the Petraeus testimony, Graham decided it was worth “taking a second look – politically or on the ground.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one coughing up my coffee on that line. “On the ground” – is he kidding? The ‘politically’ was implicitly (oxy)moronic – maybe he slept through that part of the Petraeus testimony. Then there was Chuck Schumer holding forth, absurdly, on Borse-Dubai’s purchase of a 20 percent stake in NASDAQ, one half of a double-barreled assault on American capital and equity markets, the other being the Carlyle Group’s sale of a discounted 20 percent interest to Abu Dhabi. If they didn’t grasp the concept and implications of peak oil a few years ago, they do now. (Alan Greenspan’s blunt remarks justifying his support of the Iraq war were as amusing as they were appalling in that regard.) Gee, somebody better invest in the American infrastructure because it’s clear the American government won’t. Apparently, they draw the line at destroying another country’s infrastructure. On borrowed Chinese money. And to think once upon a time, I thought America only knew how to entertain and/or sell products. I’m not sure how effectively we do that anymore, but apparently America is still good at blowing stuff up. (Come to think of it, that sounds like a lot of Hollywood summer movies.)

Where was I? Allison Miller? That’s right – she has a show up at ACME. I can appreciate the distance I have now on this particular show (though I know it annoys some of the readers who check in here routinely who are looking for the info/intel NOW, not two weeks later). Miller’s abstractions grow on one. Viewing the show that Saturday night – if not on the run, not exactly contemplatively, either – so much of the impact was sheer scale and shape – these deliberated, purposeful ‘doodles’ arrayed on an imposing scale (e.g., 4x5 sq.ft. were typical dimensions). ‘New Image Abstraction,’ I summed it up to myself then; and in a way, I think the appellation almost holds. There’s a kind of Guston-ish reliance on a few dominant shapes – whether abstracted from a figurative source or purely non-objective – repeated, extended or extrapolated, and/or reinterpreted – by way of size or rendering, color modulation, division or abrupt discontinuity; and therein lies its departure from the ‘Guston’ type image or motif, which usually builds into something more concrete or readily identifiable. Miller’s work dispenses with – I would go so far as to say, discredits – the concrete. The ‘concrete’ here may be a separation, a ‘divide’ – but this is exactly where her brand of abstract veers off ambiguously into the domain of illusion. The process is fascinating and I would love to get into her brain while she’s working. Her work (though I really haven’t seen that much of it – here at ACME, some group shows, etc.) has come in for comparison with Bart Exposito, with whom she shares certain obvious affinities (coloristic, among others). But her work is soooooo different from Exposito’s. It almost challenges the very foundation of such ‘hard edge’ type work (though I don’t mean to simplify Exposito’s work quite to that extent either). Consider, by way of example, the image on the announcement card (which is what is sitting in front of me). (I’d never do a critique on that basis – or even my memory, which I don’t entirely trust; but it will serve in this context with respect to Miller’s use of shape, the non-/anti-concrete, etc.) In “Trumpet,” Miller gives us a succession of swagged crescents gradually settling over a dark trapezoidal form which bisected both vertically and, near its top edge, horizontally (an allusion to something ‘concrete’? -- an extrusion, a bevel? Miller teases us with a line, a color gradation – as the bright yellow of the ‘trumpet’s’ bell ‘sinks’ beneath that line, that ‘lip’; and all the while, the graduated swags – in umber, mauve, white, blue (and yellow) – rise to the very top and extend to the width of the panel. But then the eye is drawn from these contrasting geometries – the trapezoid ‘base’ (bass?) and ‘trumpet’ parabolas off to the side. Miller has a certain fearlessness with the way she uses black and white, light and dark space; but here it’s as if there’s something else going on altogether in the lower half of the painting, a sequence of ridged tissues of pigment (oil I assume) in vertical strokes, ranging from inky black at the bottom to slate and steel blues tinged with violet and pale graphite or grays fading to sheer smoke. What – brushes on the snare or cymbals? Strings? It’s a different mood, a different episode in the same tune, the same ‘story.’ There’s no way to reconcile the contrasting zones, masses, geometries – and no need to. It somehow holds its own tenuous balance, the strength of those shapes, the mystery of those more ‘painterly’ passages, the balance between what is revealed and what obscured. I have a bit more on this, but I'll leave off for a moment. Hold that paradox if you can.

No comments: