Wilco fans have already seen Joanne Greenbaum’s work, though they might not know it. Greenbaum provided cover art for the band’s 2011 “The Whole Love,” as well as illustrations for a fifty-two-page booklet that accompanies the deluxe two-CD edition.
Her forty-two abstract paintings at Shane Campbell Gallery stand as her own kind of concept album. Together, the identically sized sixteen-by-twelve-inch canvases constitute a single experiment in the expressive capacities of gesture. At the same time, each of these pictures rewards close attention, as individual works convey different levels of complexity at the heart of those same gestures.
From across the gallery, a single expression—communicated in a central shape, a neon splash of color, or a bold set of dark gridlines—dominates every painting. When viewed together, the dominant gesture in each work stakes equal claim on our attention, keeping us from fixating on any one object. The arrangement of the unframed pictures on three blank white walls creates a sense of measured motion around the entire space. The sense is one of equivalence.
Up close, the bold exclamatory gestures break down into layers of dense and more complicated pen-drawn spirals and brush strokes. The artist’s definitive marks, so clear and direct from afar, separate into complex and equally intentioned components. The most straightforward of Greenbaum’s works seem like reconsiderations of Morris Louis’ color field paintings, though in place of anonymous stains and rivulets of color, we get bold authorial marks that insist upon the artist’s presence.
The most complex pictures contrast dense layers of intricate swirls with blurred overlays of warm hues and rich, confidently painted lines. They are not just about the movement of the artist’s hand. Rather, they break up artistic intent into complicated sets of decisions and sub-decisions. They feel like maps that we don’t have a key for: grids and color schemes that seem chaotic in the immediate, but that would relay information if we knew how to decode them. (A-J Aronstein)
Through February 25 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 673 North Milwaukee