Thursday, March 19, 2020

One Language, Two Dialects

One Language, Two Dialects

Pale Dawn, by Jeffrey Hull

So Easy, by Jeffrey Hull

His Very Last Thoughts Lie Here, by Jeffrey Hull

6-1-2013, by Jo Ann Rothschild

Little Surprise, by Jo Ann Rothschild

July 8, 2019, by Jo Ann Rothschild

By Tom Wachunas

   “Form itself, even if completely abstract ... has its own inner sound.”  Wassily Kandinsky

  “… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”  Arshile Gorky

EXHIBIT:  Parallel Tracks: Paintings by Jo Ann Rothschild & Jeffrey Hull / at THE WILLIAM J. AND PEARL F. LEMMON VISITING ARTIST GALLERY at Kent State University at Stark,  Fine Arts Building / 6000 FRANK AVENUE NW, NORTH CANTON, OH 44720

PLEASE NOTE: I’m saddened that the Covid-19 situation has shut down Kent Stark campus and thus access to this exhibit. I simply want to remember and document here that the exhibit was yet more remarkable evidence of this elegant gallery’s cultural importance to our region. I’m extremely grateful for the continuing curatorial endeavors by Professor Jack McWhorter (Kent Stark Fine Arts Dept. Coordinator) and the impeccable work by Jeff Leadbetter (Kent Stark Fine Arts Equipment Laboratory Technician) in installing all these exhibits.

   Most of the works featured in this captivating exhibit –  by Boston-based Jo Ann Rothschild, and Jeffrey Hull, who lived and worked in Boston’s South End from 1979 until his death in 2017 - are abstract paintings. Rothschild and Hull speak the same language, which is to say they’ve consciously applied moistened pigments to a flat surface - a two-dimensional picture plane. They employ the same rudimentary vocabulary elements of color, shape, and line. But beyond their basic “grammar,” their style of syntax as well as ostensible subject matter make for very divergent dialects. Talk about different strokes… 

   In some ways, Jeffrey Hull’s paintings recall the transcendence, or  spirituality, resonant in the 20th century Modernist landscapes by American painters such as Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and, more recently, the boldly-colored visions of Gregory Amenoff.  Hull’s iconography, however, while at times suggestive of strange terrains dense with with tangled natural forms, is a bit more enigmatic and surreal, exuding an intensely personal sort of mysticism.

   Pale Dawn and So Easy (both acrylic on canvas) are loosely painted clusters of biomorphic and angular shapes that look like they’re bundled together. Or pulled apart?  Hard to tell which, actually. It’s a chimeric ambiguity that draws you in and keeps you looking.

    Some configurations in these mindscapes look like multicellular organisms undergoing mitosis, or mutation. In these works, one passage – whether  doodled gesture, defined pattern, or contoured form – can often seem to be an automatic reply to an adjacent passage of a wholly different character. One mark or shape or color can call its immediate neighbor into being. Ses dernières pensées se trouvent ici (His very last thoughts lie here) #10 (oil on canvas) employs a more rigid linearity in how the varying shapes are joined. Additionally, Hull’s dazzling color acuity, and the carved texture of his sumptuous impasto surface, give the painting a sculpted, even architectural presence.

   The notion of painterly intuition - allowing one visual element to bring another into being (mentioned above in reference to Hull) - is a call-and-response dynamic also evident in the paintings by Jo Ann Rothschild. That said, her pictorial motifs are decidedly more diffuse and nondescript than we see in Hull’s paintings.

   Paintings such as 6-1-2013 (oil on canvas, named for the date of its completion), and Little Surprise (oil on linen), seem at first to have been made quickly, all at once. But look deeper through the veils of brushy, energetic paint movement, both visceral and gentle.  Belying that appearance of instant spontaneity is a history, a sense of flux. Actions and reactions. Colors, shapes, and marks have been altered, their rhythms re-arranged and re-ordered over time. You could think of Rothschild’s picture planes as evolving improvisatory melodies, with some passages sung softly, like distant echoes, others with real gusto, embellished with bright staccato accents. Songs about old things fading away and new things emerging.

   Some of her oil paintings here are very small (9 x 12 inches), such as July 8, 2019. “Small paintings surprise and interest me,” she wrote in her statement. “In a time of big lies. I want modest truth.” Despite their modesty of physical scale, they still sing in a big way.  
   Overall, the exhibit reminded me once again that my deep appreciation of abstract painting, in all its dialects, is rooted in willingness to look long and look slowly. That very act is its own reward. I can assure you that in the future, Kent Stark’s Lemmon Gallery will continue offering vigorous journeys to perceptual thresholds beyond the ordinary.

No comments: