Looking at Looking
By Tom Wachunas
“…There is a sense of anticipation in the works. Forms surface and submerge, press against one another as if for support or come together as if magnetically, sexually attracted. In these works, idiosyncratic markings disrupt and energize the expansiveness of the surfaces and the solidity of the shapes, imbuing the paintings with a quirky sense of humor…” - Patricia Spergel
EXHIBIT: PEEKING THROUGH- Recent paintings, drawings & monotypes by Patricia Spergel / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 29, 2017 at Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio / viewing hours Monday-Friday, 11 A.M.-5 P.M.
We are living in a world increasingly stooped by the weight of accumulated visual data that both demands and divides our attentions. The sheer ubiquity of photographs and otherwise traditional representational art alone can be so overwhelming as to leave us floundering in rivers of superficiality. Saturated by the common and familiar, we can become desensitized to the truly extraordinary or mesmerizing. As our imaginations might slip into a state of complacent dormancy, we’re numbed. We might notice things, but not really see them. And in our rush to do so, we often look too fast.
I’ve always respected non-objective abstract painting for its probative descriptions of what is not immediately evident, yet still essential in embracing the visible world. In its most expressive manifestations, it is a genre uniquely suited to rendering – and often reconciling - life’s most vexing dichotomies: chaos and order, harmony and dissonance, disciplined rationality and intuition. Comprehending it first requires our willingness as viewers to click on our pause buttons, as it were, and take the time necessary to fully engage protracted moments of discovery and revelation.
The particular type of abstraction practiced by painter Patricia Spergel is, then, an ardent commitment to slowing down long enough to let paint be paint as her imagery emerged through time. But it’s not an illustrative imagery of a static world.
What we see aren’t completed scenes or finished objects that magically appeared intact on the surface of the canvas. Look long, look slow. There’s a history, an evolution. An evidence trail. These oil paintings are exuberant records of Spergel’s intuitive decisions in response to how her utterly luscious colors might blend or conflict, to the variable detailing and scale of shapes vying for our attention, to shifting figure/ground dynamics, to the lightness or heaviness of touch and line. There are the rhythmic motions of pulling or pushing the brush across a swath of thick or thinned-out paint, now quickly, now slowly… of scraping, dragging, washing, of covering up, exposing, and covering up again.
Neither monumental nor intimidating in scale (no larger than about 3’ on a side), the paintings are nevertheless big enough to immerse us in a marvelous equipoise of real work and real play. Here is a thoughtful and intimate confluence of drama and humor, of silences and transfixing noises.
Spergel’s painterly vernacular is certainly in some ways a codified articulation of private experiences, including her sensations and memories of people, places, and things. It’s important to keep in mind that for as much as an abstract painter is in dialogue with process, method and materials, the painting itself can and should be an invitation for us to enter a conversation, to have an experience in real time. In that sense, looking at a painting should be an RSVP moment. In our own act or method of looking, we can create for ourselves a memorable experience in its own right.
The late, great painter, Richard Diebenkorn, once observed, “It is not a matter of painting life. It's a matter of giving life to a painting.” And it’s a matter that Patricia Spergel has clearly taken to heart.
PHOTOS from top: Havana Pink / Bolted / Bee Hive / Splish Splash /Santa Maria Novella / Moon Jelly