Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Auroral Substances

Auroral Substances

By Tom Wachunas

    “…All great paintings are sculptures – there’s so much of the actualness about it that a great painting forces you into a visual, physical movement of yourself. That’s what determines the way you experience a painting kinetically. You move closer, you sight down it, you tilt your head, you step back, you feel as though you are in it. That being in it is just as important as looking from a distance.”  - painter Kenneth Noland

    “My visual world, though rarely depictive of any specific subject matter, is usually grounded in dynamic, primordial natural forms, especially elements of the human body. The microcosm that is the curvature of an arm may end up evoking the macrocosm of a sweeping imaginary landscape. My paintings often call to mind the rich colors and textures of the earth.”  - painter  Annette Poitau

   EXHIBIT: Annette Poitau, abstract oil paintings, at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton, THROUGH JANUARY 4, 2014. Gallery hours are Tues. and Thurs. Noon to 6 p.m., Wed., Fri., & Sat. Noon to 9 p.m., Sun. 1 to 5 p.m. until after the holidays.

    From a distance, the oil paintings by Annette Poitau have something of a family resemblance to the very large abstract Color Field “stain” paintings of Helen Frankenthaler or the “Veil” series of Morris Louis, among others. But come closer to Poitau’s more intimately-scaled surfaces (and yes, do “…sight down it,… tilt your head, …step back…”) and you’ll be engaged with a different visual dynamic altogether.

   Whereas the aforementioned abstractionists intended their translucent layers of pigment be “at one with” the canvas as opposed to sitting on top, Poitau’s undulating, intensely saturated hues become physical topographies that seem to emerge from subtle, liquid underlayments. These brilliant visions are a hypnotic merging of the material with the ethereal. To some, they might suggest at once spectacular earthen formations and atmospheric phenomena.

    In her statement quoted above, Poitau refers to this suggestive quality in her work as evocative of landscape. Keep in mind, though, that “evoking” is a concept wholly separate from “imitating” in the representational sense. And herein is a capacity unique to this particular kind of nonobjective abstraction: The power to conjure essences, or ineffable energies, freed from identifiable subjects.

   If I understand Poitau’s methodology correctly, briefly described on her web site at, she allows the varying viscosities in her layers of paint to interact in ways that produce the sensation of motion in shifting planes or “clouds” of color. Call it a controlled abandon, or a surrender to the properties of paint to do what it will naturally do. Remarkable, minute details can surface, as in the upward movement of feathery green rivulets in the lower portion of her painting titled Vague.

   Overt brushwork is a minimal presence in the flowing, spontaneous feel of these paintings. There is occasional evidence of intentional action (or “drawing”) by Poitau’s hand. But it’s neither an overly fussy disruption of the visual gestalt, nor an unnecessary afterthought. The three ghostly, greenish horizontal trails through the surface in one of the untitled paintings (hanging in the classroom area of the gallery), for example, are but a gentle intrusion. Such gestural moments are a poetic reminder, perhaps, that the auroral glow of these works is indeed of human origin.

    Regardless of the objective realities we might discern these works as somehow describing, I think the primary subject matter here is paint itself. The strength and appeal of this exhibit is in Poitau’s apparent gift for investing something so inherently inanimate – paint – with such astonishing vitality.

    PHOTOS, courtesy Su Nimon at Journey Art Gallery (from top): Vague, oil on canvas, 34”x60”; Untitled, oil on board, 50”x27”; Untitled, oil on canvas, 36”x48”      

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