March came in like a lion — the blast of cold weather has a local correlation in the blowing away of conventional boundaries between sculpture, painting, photography and ceramics that’s an underlying theme of two of this month’s art exhibitions. At the Gallery at R&F and KMOCA, the surfaces and forms of the paintings, sculpture and photography on display represented fresh imaginings of what a painting, sculpture or photograph could be. In each body of work by the three artists (Lisa Pressman at R&F and Ellen Driscoll and Kathy Goodell at KMOCA) this sifting of multiple visual languages through the lens of a particular theme or series is accompanied by a structural discipline. The result is the emergence of a distinct style and formal vocabulary, whose splaying of conventions points to new meanings and revelations.
Pressman, who earned an MFA at Bard and initially studied ceramics and sculpture, employs the motif of a container in the cold wax and oil paintings in her “Inside Matter” series, several of which are on view at R&F. The series title, which is a pun on the word “matter” — in the sense of both referring to a material and a meaning — alludes to the image of a purse or bag, which suggests gravity in the way the container hangs from two straps even as it is a diaphanous and weightless, an abstracted, specter-like form floating in an atmospheric ground. In Unspoken, the form is depicted upside down and with only one strap, which transforms it into a head or, more specifically, cartoon dialog bubble. Such a transformation makes explicit the allusions to the container as a metaphor for silent thoughts, memory, the interiority of being, even as Pressman not only isolates and spotlights the thing that normally functions as an accessory — a stand-in for the subconscious, perhaps — but also paints it as transparent, as “inside out,” so to speak.
Referring to the handbag, she noted at the opening “I thought it was a great metaphor for carrying baggage, expressing vulnerability, as well as referring to medical healing bags.” The works are “also about the physicality of paint. With the encaustic I’m involved in an additive and reductive process,” literally building up the paint and excavating it, which deepens the metaphor of the selectivity of memory working on the accretions of experience.
In paintings such as Passages, the surface pattern on the singular form of the “purse” transforms it into a flat rectangular shape more akin to a tablet or map. In Decipher, alphabet-like letters emerge from the dense, painterly grid of geometric forms, as if the painting contained an encrypted code. The paint in these works from her “Vision” series is hard, dense and shiny, recalling Pressman’s interest in ceramic and imbuing the surface with a sculptural palpability, in stark contrast to the nuanced, misty atmospheres of the “Inside Matter” series.
In the square-format “Mapping a Place” series, in which large strokes of blue and white paint swoosh across the canvas, belying the small, 12×12-inch size of the ground, the paint is of a different quality yet again — airy, light, speaking of distance and space. The flatness suggests aerial views, though the brash movement of the strokes suggests not so much the depiction of a place, abstracted from the air, but a movement through space, caught in fragmentary glimpses. Pressman’s dexterity in suggesting sensory experiences through the pure language of paint is not only evident in her inventive applications but also in her talents as a colorist. A pale bag-like form floating in a dark atmosphere shimmers with subtle greens, violets, and yellows, the predominately blue and yellow palette of her “Mapping a Place” pieces is perked up with touches of red or pink, in some cases mottled like a turtle shell; the intense, Hans Hoffman-like chromatics of her squares in the “Vision” series is cooled down with delicate green-yellows, blues, spicy, subtle oranges, and deep, organ-tone dark reds.