As evinced by the prevalence of “Zombie Formalism,” abstraction is currently coasting: reanimating movements without contributing new ideas. Paintings by Michelle Bolinger, Samantha Bittman and Anna Kunz are a refreshing contrast to lifeless painting that threatens visual communication itself in a hunger for conceptual novelty. Together they confirm that a voice can still be found in purely formal painting about the process of abstraction itself.
Bolinger’s small-panel paintings contain a conversation between applications. Decisively flat monochromes lie between the viewer and past actions, creating windows onto what remains of sanded compositions and brushwork. These clean final shapes acknowledge the finishing stroke as built out of preceding decisions; both containing and bringing forward earlier ideas. We are caught up in the events of creation, seeing through cemented gestures into the contrived disregard that inspired them.
Bittman’s acrylic-on-hand-woven-textile works show the painter locked into anterior structure. The weaving, stretched directly over the supports, provides a fibrous underpainting the texture of which pushes the composition through later layers. Mathematical patterns, warped by the strands, are modified and highlighted with acrylic color to suggest new forms or wipe out the old. That two works remain unpainted underlines the need for adjustment in others, whose acrylic lines ape the fibers they cover in an uncanny patina.
Kunz has created an immersive work, “Peel,” that covers one large canvas as well as the entire corner of the gallery it hangs in. Contrary to how the work evolved, as a painting growing outward onto the walls, the primary shapes and colors outside lead the eye back inwards to the subtle complications of the camouflaged canvas. The wall work, with a flat building block quality, seems a primordial cousin to more irregularly rectangular forms in the painting that range from pulsating murky blues to intensely vibrating yellows.
These works tell a narrative of process in visual language. The marriage of instinct and vision that comes while working in a painting, adding and removing while immersed in a history of marks both on and off the work, is naked here. (Nick Nes Knowlton)
Through April 11 at Ralph Arnold Gallery, Loyola University, 1131 West Sheridan