Two more artists in the show Practice to Pretend play with the ideas of representation and abstraction. The work of both Rebekah Goldstein and Nikki Painter feels unexpected and intentionally defamiliarized, the abstraction resulting from a messy mixing of specific forms. Each piece folds bits of the exterior world into its interior space recontextualizing it in a way that involves the space of the viewer.
The forms fighting for space in Rebekah Goldstein’s paintings look like they exist beyond the edges of the surface having only made an appearance after the canvas pushed its way up under them. The paintings are rigorous and open inverting the idea that we are looking into the closed world of the artist. One area overlaps, trading places with another in a cascade of forms tied to each other inside and out. It is not a subjective existential conundrum pulling one pure form from a slipping peripheral glimpse that brings these shapes forward, but the hurried, brief and impossible to contain flow of forms already present in the world.
The left side of “GardenPartyNoPants”, one of two large paintings included in the show, is dominated by an angular yellow area of painterly transitions and tonal subtleties. The color weaves its way down the surface taking on no shape except as it defines the areas around it. Trace one heavy black line and (as a partial list) we see a crown, a bit of rope, a dress pattern, and what looks like a hooded figure with black rope around its neck. The black line is not continuous jumping from one spot to the next circumscribing areas not entirely contained by it. The painting is so packed full that the brushy violet rectangle on the right half of the canvas seems calm by comparison.
The gridded collages of Nikki Painter’s drawings function as installations hung in front of an ambiguous scrim of paper, physically discrete layers built in the space between the viewer and the surface. In “Untitled (Cloud)” a harlequin grid enters at the upper right corner and makes its way diagonally towards the lower left corner of the page. The grid changes from graphite to the lilacs, reds, yellow and blues of the line drawings and cloud shaped rainbow it encounters. At times transparent at others opaque the colored grid peers out from in-between the discrete layers of the collage both physically (being part of a different layer) and perceptually (being part of a layer complicating it’s space) and works to flatten the layers and generate depth simultaneously.
In “Field Study (Slip)” the grid fades in from the white space at the bottom morphing from harlequin diamonds to pixelated squares until organic leaf like forms loosen the grid into overlapping a more distant system of black and white lines. The splashes of color whose source may have been leaves at one point are divorced from that reference and hung in an ambiguous and oscillating space. “Waste” is the outlier in this group, ballpoint pen drawings on graph paper cut up and glued down as ladder shapes. The broken grid this creates confuses, anchored in one place by a familiar pixelization in another by handwritten text. The effect never lets your eye settle or apply any familiar visual hierarchy inviting you to look and keep looking.
Using computers and other digital devices to create work is commonplace in many art practices. But how has our ready access to pictures via smartphone cameras and social networks affected our perception of the world? All of the artists in this show seem to be addressing different aspects of this issue through a loosely defined idea of painting. It is rewarding to see a show that refers to the process of painting and includes the world that process exists in.
Practice to Pretend is at Alterspace in San Francisco, thru Aug 17. For more information visit here.
-Contributed by Matthew Marchand