Works on Paper







Pamela Jorden

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Art in America
December 2011
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Presence Past and Reverie Future:  Thoughts on Recent Abstract Painting
Posted on 05 October 2011

The anonymous sign read “Pretty Pictures Never Solved a Problem,” and it would be fair to suppose it was intended as some kind of critique of esthetics in the name of ethics.  But to that sign, I still wanted to add “they never pretended to do so, either,” so that I could make the point that a disinterest in ethics is still ethically superior to pretending to be concerned about ethics in the name of personal or interest-group self-aggrandizement.  During the past decade of political and financial tumult, we have seen a lot of art engaged in such pretenses, be it labeled “institutional critique,” “social-practices,” or the ever- popular “relational esthetics,” all of which in their own way tried to feel the world’s pain as a prelude to exaggerating their own claims of importance in the greater scheme of things. Good thing the Wall Street protestors didn’t get bogged down in any of these art world conceits, lest they, too, fall victim to being programmatically ineffectual.

Now the stage is set for the claim that this article seeks to make, which is that there seems to be some new energy percolating in the much-maligned world of “pretty pictures,” that is, abstract painting called by that other unfairly dismissive names.  Of course, anyone with any sustained involvement in the art world can tell you that abstract painting goes through some kind of revival every decade, meaning that you could have set your watch to the predictable arrival of the recent crop.  But this time around, things seem a little bit different.  What seems to be taking place seems less a predictable revival of a well-known style (such as the late 1990s “Post-Hypnotic Abstraction” revival of late 1960s Op Art), and more a deep rethinking of the whole historical enterprise of abstract painting.  This seems particularly remarkable if you have been paying close attention to the past two decades of technologically-assisted confusion about the relationship of art and entertainment because we were all beginning to assume that the possibility for such thinking was being diluted out of existence.

 Pamela Jorden's recent exhibition at Romer/Young (through October 15) represents one such instance of deep rethinking.  Her work tends to be rather small, but it provides visual experiences that are very rich, complex and full of nuance. Most of her paintings are formatted as circular compositions or as almost perfect squares, offering an intimate visual experience that balances subtle fantasies of soft, fluid shapes with other more graphic forms that are circumscribed by torqued edges that are crisp and decisive.  A rich palette of shadowy hues predominates the more fluid areas of her work, which include the addition of reflective materials that add iridescence to subtle shifts of tonality.  Jorden’s improbable variety of painterly treatments appears to be a mélange of choreographic diagrams.

Jorden’s work is also very allusive and multi-layered, and if your art-historical antennae is rusty, you might miss her many evocations of artists such as Redon and Kandinsky and Schwitters, whom she casts in some very imaginative relations to the way that abstract painting evolved between the poles of Dada and Constructivism during the two decades separating the end WWI and the beginning of WW II.  All of this now seems ripe for a second look, because we have routinely regarded the highly complex art history of those two decades through Alfred Barr and Clement Greenberg’s ideas about the “inevitable” evolution of Modernist Art.  But instead of sharing those critic’s assumptions about the inevitable historical march to the promised land of visual purity, why not see the esthetic vocabularies hatched during those two decades as the early exploration of elaborate possibilities?  Here is where Jorden’s work seems to have hit on something.  It simultaneously reaches back to abstraction’s deep historical roots in Symbolism while also reaching forward to a world of unconventional variation on the themes of pictorial innovation for the sheer sake of exploration.

The notion of reaching back to the Symbolist roots of Modernist abstraction while simultaneously reaching forward to is also evident in Jamie Brunson’s exhibition at the Triton Museum (through November 20).  Titled Indra’s Net, the show calls attention to Brunson’s longstanding involvement with kundalini meditation pratices, a theme born out born out by all of the 22 works on display. These parse out into three separate groups, one being a group of concentrically symmetrical compositions that like seem like schematic, non-referential versions of Tibetan Mandalas, another that spreads vertical streaks of bright color more-or-less evenly across spacious and sumptuous picture surfaces, and a third that seems like a hybrid of the other two.  I would call the works in this third group “cellular distribution images,” but that might be a bit overdone.  Their characteristic, irregular grids, look a bit like close-up examinations of reptile scales, except that the delicate surfaces of these works are anything but tough and lizard-like.

In fact, the almost gossamer surfaces of Brunson’s works are among their most remarkable attributes. Brunson paints on a taut polyester fabric rather than conventional canvas, to which she applies oil paint that is suffused with both alkyd and wax medium, giving the surfaces of her works a radiant luster that seems a bit futuristic, but is nonetheless perfect for her color choices, revolving as they do around an exuberant chromaticism that only rarely flirts with being sugary.  More often, they reveal a subtle sense of modulation, and in fact, when your eye adjusts to the work you often see subtle shifts that coalesce into almost invisible forms that echo the more pronounced interweaving of graphic shapes.

Given that Brunson’s exhibition is taking place in a Silicon Valley museum, it is not too much of a stretch to read the lattice structures of her “cellular distribution images” as schematic representations of complex, multi-nodal communications networks, but I might want to go even further to suggest that they prompt the viewer into a reconsideration of the question of where the center of a pictorial experience might reside, not to mention another question: why should art continue to assume the need for such centers?

Zheng Chongbin is another abstract painter whose work ponders a similar issue from a very different point of view that is deeply rooted in the history of Asian painting. I am still haunted by Chongbin’s exhibition at Haines Gallery last winter, partly because it succeeded in doing what so many artists have tried and failed to do, that is, create a true and deeply resonant synthesis of Asian painting with a sophisticated grasp of the modern western notion of “the picture object,” that being Michel Foucault’s term of approbation for the tradition in painting that begins with the work of Eduard Manet.

Chongbin applies different consistencies of black ink on to sheets of Xuam paper (made from sandalwood fiber), which for over a thousand years have been the preferred painting surfaces for calligraphic ink painting owing to the way that they reveal both the flow and crispness of an artist’s brushwork.  As was the case with the master painters of the Sung and Yuan dynasties, Chongbin’s brushwork changes tempo to create an elegant choreography of shapes that bespeak what ancient scholars referred to as “landscapes of the mind.”

His flowing forms obliquely allude to distant landscapes shrouded in evanescent atmospherics, and they invite the viewer’s imagination to wander into and through them. But his surfaces also bespeak a phosphorescent marbling effect created by the judicious application of white acrylic paint that brings the viewer’s gaze back to the facture of the work’s surface. This oscillation between material fact and lyrical allusiveness is the formal basis for Chongbin’s work, which plays out in the viewer’s imagination through an elegant undulation of forms that allow the eye to travel from zones defined by a rich saturation of black ink to others that give way to free-flowing, mid-tone forms. These provide a contemporary echo of the way that Sung dynasty masters portrayed the Yangtse river gorge, only in Chongbin’s work, there is almost no evidence of geological fact.  Instead, we see an emphasis on the revelation of rhythmic geomantic energies that ancient Chinese philosophers claimed were at the core of all natural beings.

The works of these three artists – Jorden, Brunson and Chongbin — are among a plentitude of similar efforts that I have noticed during the past year. Other artists whose work I would also include in my list of interesting new abstraction would include Corinne Wasmuht's stand-out contribution to this past summer’s Venice Biennial, and the work of Michael Wingo, a Los Angeles painter whose recent solo exhibition at Gallery KM in Santa Monica was a welcome treat. I think that it might be interesting to note how much of the new abstraction that I am seeing harks back to the late, post-1973 works by Elmer Bischoff, Jay DeFeo and (a little bit later) Frank Lobdell, who at that time all took a decisive turn toward the abstract right when most of the painting world had started its move toward post-modernist figuration. 


About the Author
Mark Van Proyen is Chair of the Painting Department of the San Francisco Art Institute. He is a corresponding editor for Art in America, and his critical writings have appeared in many publications, including Art Criticism, Artweek and Art Issues. He is currently working on a novel titled Theda’s Island, the story of which is set in the art world.

Pamela Jorden: “Looking Through Trees” @ Romer Young through Oct. 15, 2011
Jamie Brunson: “Indra’s Net” @ Triton Museum through Nov. 20, 2011

Zheng Chongbin photos courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery



Quarry, 2011; acrylic and bleach on fabric; 33 x 33 in.
Courtesy the Artist and Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco.

Looking Through Trees
SEP 16 - OCT 15

by Zachary Royer Scholz

Looking Through Trees, Pamela Jorden’s first solo exhibition with Romer Young Gallery, presents a group of paintings whose subtle complexity requires prolonged and ideally repeated viewing.

The majority of the paintings exhibited showcase the characteristic style that Jorden has crystallized over the last few years. In such works as Fragments of blue dense (2011) and Quarry (2011), Jorden uses angular streaks and arching sweeps of paint to create dense, tangled webs, whose fractal energy not only bursts, but also quietly shimmers. Painted on darkly dyed canvas, these pieces are ingeniously anchored by bleach under-painting. The resulting batik-like marks inform the placement of Jorden’s overlaying brushwork and provide some of the paintings’ most poetic moments. Jorden’s palette centers on a bruise-like mix of blues, purples, and blacks, but she deftly orchestrates these otherwise somber hues to produce tones that are tranquil rather than dour—more like open expanses of night sky than funereal shrouds.

Diverging from the main group of works are two symmetrically structured paintings, entitled Smoke and Vega (both 2011). Their geometric stability nicely balances the amorphous energy present in Jorden’s other paintings and creates a dialogue that expands the show’s otherwise tight boundaries. In these paintings, as in her signature style, Jorden’s playfully angular brushwork retains much of drawing’s immediacy, while simultaneously exploiting paint’s viscose potential. Triangular edges fade and bounce into one another, creating shifting relationships that evade fixed comprehension. Jorden’s nuanced compositions rub against each other, causing energy to pool in these works until it leaks into the gallery space and contrasting nicely with the way her other paintings seem to recede infinitely.

Considered in relation to one another, the paintings in Looking Through Trees make it clear that Jorden’s title is metaphorical if not philosophical. While the fragmentary forms in some of the works could be seen as abstract foliage, they more accurately embody mediated perception. Like flickering light passing through leaves, Jorden’s paintings present a subjective and perpetually moving target. They create fleeting perceptions that elude memory but leave ghostly traces in their wake.



The Working Title
Exhibition Catalog

The Working Title - Progress Report
Bronx River Arts Center
March 25 - April 29, 2011

A 32-artist group survey of recent abstraction organized by Progress Report

A 92-page full color catalog of the show with essays by artist Shirley Kaneda and independent curator Jon Lutz is now available on Blurb.


My work is influenced by the continuum of my experience.  I stand in front of a Philip Guston and consider a painting made at a particular moment, its context in the museum and what I know of the artist and his politics.  At the same time, I revel in the visual, tactile, and visceral experience of looking at the painting.  This experience connects the past with my present.  I imagine myself involved in many conversations as my paintings run alongside the work that inspires me, tumbling around with expressionism and geometry, chasing off after what surprises and confounds me.


My paintings often begin with a simple idea or proposition.  For example, what happens if diagonal lines are scraped into a washy gray ground?  Painting for me is an experiment in which marks and color have weight and energy with the power to harmonize or disrupt.  My process is one of creating problems as much as solving them.  Intuitive vs. deliberate?  These impulses are not at odds for me, they operate in tandem; action/reaction as the painting takes form.


Variety Trumps Argument at the Bronx River Art Center
By Stephen Maine
April 23, 2011

The Working Title, Organized by Progress Report, at the Bronx River Art Center
March 25 to April 29, 2011
305 East 140th Street #1A
Bronx, NY.

Devise a cohesive fiction, or report the scattershot facts? The nature and purpose of curation is an issue in “The Working Title,” a lively but unfocused exhibition of 32 abstract artists, mostly painters, on view at the Bronx River Art Center through April 29. The show is assembled by Progress Report, the online and curatorial project of Vince Contarino and Kris Chatterson, who opt for fidelity to abstraction’s currently schizophrenic condition rather than identify and analyze a dominant personality. According to the show’s press release, the curators eschew artists who adhere to “the doctrine of romantic sentimentality” — an oxymoron if ever there was one. Otherwise, the connective tissue is stretched thin.

The show is engaging nevertheless, as it includes fine work by both recognized and undersung talents. An inventive and resourceful colorist, Pamela Jorden contributes the shadowy but buoyant Echo Music (2010) in which brushy patches and smears of lugubrious near-blacks and rumbling, pungent blues underscore a dazzling range of scraped, glazed, silver-tinted grays. Jordan does not conceal her pleasure in finding her way forward toward the painting’s resolution, guided by impulse, taste and faith in her pictorial proclivities. If her sensibility isn’t romantic, then it’s very close.

Matthew Deleget’s work resides toward the other end of abstraction’s spectrum as the realization, on a painted surface, of a preconceived procedural idea. The colors in Shuffle (for Grandmaster Flash) (2011) are selected at random—yellow, pink, fluorescent orange and copper predominate—and arranged by means of a predetermined system of recombination within a four-by-four unit grid. Abstraction as perceptual research, Shuffle is an extreme instance of the empirical attitude that underlies much of the work in the show, which is alert to pictorial strategies rather than intent on fetishizing subjectivities.

A sense of architectonic scale arises from interpenetrating rectangles and triangles in black, red, and two variants of yellow in Untitled (very tizdayle) (2009) by Tisch Abelow. Abelow’s handling is flat and graphic but the painting’s space craftily shakes itself loose from rigid geometry to suggest a modernist façade, a cantilevered balcony, a sun-washed portico, or an edifice in the middle distance. Nearby is Joy Curtis’s towering, chalk-white St. Virga (2010), a work in hydrocal, fiberglas, wood and metal in which cast fragments of fluted pilasters dangle like an ungrounded pillar, contacting neither ceiling nor floor and implying havoc and destruction—or at best, impermanence. The piece recalls the work of Lynda Benglis in its precise equivalence of process and image.

In fact, all the three-dimensional works in “The Working Title” relate at least as strongly to pictorial space as they do to physical space. Resolutely planar, Inna Babaeva’s More Than You Think (2011) consists of a half-dozen painting stretchers of various dimensions, hinged together in a free-standing accordion fold and strapped with translucent colored plastic. Letha Wilson weighs in with the peculiar but compelling Double Dip (2009), two thin strips of plywood bent into teardrop shapes, pinned to the wall by their pointy ends, and lined on their inner surfaces with photographs of verdant woodland. A punch line among colors gets a little respect in Stacy Fisher’s Fuchsia Sculpture With Wood (2010) in which a squarish blob roughly brushed with the flamboyant hue is lodged between blocks of lumber stained a plain-Jane brown. Pushing and pulling space even as it hugs the wall, the piece functions like a painting.

That undercurrent of humor is sustained throughout the show. E. J. Hauser’s spaceman (2010) inscribes a discombobulated argyle pattern in red-orange and whiteon a blue-black shape that reads instantly as the helmeted head of a spaceman—or motorcycle daredevil, or linebacker. Echo Helmet (2010) by Britton Tolliver reprises the domed shape, inverted and approximately mirroring itself, via juicy slabs of waxy-looking paint in quietly radiant tones. While the motif of protective headgear is completely appropriate to such a cerebral exhibition, the presence of all this recognizable imagery prompts the question of how the curators define abstraction. They dodge that task, as (from the press release again) these artists may merely “use abstraction as a starting point.” Ah.

What is clear is Progress Report’s skepticism of the high seriousness with which abstract painters of fifty years ago regarded the existential confrontation with the void of the blank canvas—as nothing less than a search for the self. Oh, well. Now that the self is swept up and bounced around in a proliferating matrix of provisional, contingent relationships, it has no fixity and the effort to locate it is a fool’s errand.
Among the show’s other standouts are Keltie Ferris’s Black Power (2010) with its jazzy, nested chevrons and fizzy spots festooning a meandering rectilinear polygon the color of dirt; Cordy Ryman’s Vector (2010), a studiously clunky low relief of two-by-fours painted serene green-blues (half-hidden, hot orange flare-ups provide chromatic sizzle) gouged with six intersecting grooves that radiate like the spokes of a wheel and allude to the face of a clock; and Dennis Hollingsworth’s maniacally overwrought Todo es Igual (2011) in which—and on which—paint is coaxed into bloom as in a hothouse. Rather than advancing an argument regarding the thrust of contemporary abstraction, “The Working Title” replicates its variety. But with friends like these, who needs curators?

Interview with Mario Vasquez
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Some Abstraction Occurs
by Patricia Courson
flavorpill CHICAGO: issue 174  1/11/2008
Just when you thought painting for painting's sake had deserted our chilly city, an exhibition of painter's painters shows up at intimate gallery 65GRAND. Curator Tiffany Calvert pulls our conceptually clouded heads out of the snow with small works by four emerging abstract artists. Highlights include Pamela Jorden's Untitled oil-on-linen pieces — multi-tiered color explosions reminiscent of works by Bay Area abstractionists Richard Diebenkorn and David Park — and Wes Sherman's inscrutable silhouettes, which recall Luc Tuymans' sense of disrupted narrative. You may not know what you're looking at, but at this discombobulating exhibition, you certainly won't care. [Info Source]
– Patricia Courson
Note: An opening reception takes place on Fri Jan 11 (7-10pm).




Gunn, Dan, "Some Abstraction Occurs," Newcity Chicago, January 11, 2008
65GRAND’s cozy space serves up work by four divergent painters: Pamela Jorden, Jasmine Justice, Wes Sherman and Wendy White. Each of their practices occurs within the ever-widening field of contemporary abstract painting. The show highlights the plurality of recent approaches to painting without pictures. While each of the artists has hir or her own charms, Jasmine Justice’s hot paintings are the most inventive in the room. Ms. Justice’s spontaneous strokes of prefab color form textile-like patterns on the surface only to be changed through the addition of other eccentric shapes. The effect is quirky and fresh, with a hint of mischievousness. Pamela Jorden’s works are significantly more somber. Their darkened shapes collide with each other in an insistently flat world. Each blobby shape interacts uniquely with the others and has its own type of gesture-as-texture. Ms. Jorden’s paintings feel like a crowded street full of people bumping shoulders. Also on view are Wes Sherman’s tightly rendered cartographic abstractions inspired by American romantic painters such as Frederic Remington or Winslow Homer, and Wendy White’s urban-inspired acidic neon and black gestural paintings with spray paint. "Some Abstraction Occurs" explores what it means to try to paint for paint’s sake in 2008.




November 2007

‘Themes and Variations’ at
the Torrance Art Museum
by Peter Frank

A small showcase like the Torrance Art Museum does not - cannot - mount exhaustive surveys.  When it takes a look at current local abstraction, as in Themes and Variations, it provides examples, not samples, of a broadly defined practice, and does better to bring forth the individual sensibilities of the participating artists than to identify commonalities among them.  All the twelve artists comprising Themes and Variations share is a commitment to making art that is in no way a pictorial representation of anything else.  Evocation of something in the "real world" is accidental or incidental; natural or manmade forms may inspire formal elaboration - some of the themes and variations the title of the show alludes to - but the artists, in elaborating thus, move away from rather than towards a mirror of the world.  Abstraction is its own world - or universe.

Themes and Variations, then, was a sum of parts, not a whole, a for-instance look at how various artists, from various backgrounds working in various manners, create their own unverses and populate them with distinctively conceived and wrought artwork.  Some are more distinctive than others, but no artist in the show was merely consistent; no matter how dependent on a self-determined formula, every painter or object-maker (or in a couple of instances, painter-object-maker) was shown to wring expansive and often unpredictable variation from that formula.  "Formula" of course equates here with "theme;" curator (and museum director) Kristina Newhouse clearly conceived of "theme" in musical as well as pictorial terms.  That is, the works of any one artist in the show re-stated and re-examined a basic visual formulation, defined by size or shape or gesture or material or whatever, rather than a basic subject matter (such as still life, say, or global warming).  Some of the work may bear such extra-formal content, but that content was not at issue here.

In this, Newhouse brought us back to the origins of abstract art a century ago, in the painting of artists who took their cues from spiritual and musical models.  It's not likely any of the twelve artists in Themes and Variations systematically translates musical pitch into color, or practices Theosophy, but to various degrees the formulas they devise and their methods for cultivating these formulas reflect a sense of responsibility to both the sensory and the ineffable qualities of such practice.  They want their work to move the viewer much as music moves the listener, and they also want to be moved themselves in the process of making the work.  The most gestural painters included in the show, Phillipa Blair and David Palmer, certainly impart this sense, recapitulating the abstract expressionist concept of jazz-like improvisation in the accretion of many active, even nervous brushstrokes.  A broader lyricism pervaded other painterly approaches in the show, those of Michelle Fierro and Pamela Jorden, and still others - the painting of Brad Eberhard and the sculpture of David McDonald - engaged an almost architectonic rigor; but musicality inflected their sense of space, color and rhythm.

Music was not the hidden agenda of Themes and Variations, however - at least not the only one.  Structure itself was the theme upon which artists such as Tim Nolan, Eric Zammitt and Brian Wills built, achieving a wide variety of effects - Zammitt's lustrous buzz, Wills's shimmer, Nolan's unfolding and multiplying - but a shared feeling of natural stability.  Nature itself seemed to impel the floating forms in Coleen Sterritt's work on paper and, in very different ways the bristling little objects of Robert Walker and the sprawling, sprouting thing Tyler Vlahovich planted in the middle of the gallery like a worn couch overtaken by a jungle.  The conjuration of nature is another of abstract art's basic conceits, and it was if anything reassuring to see it, along with the emulation of music, driving and defining the production of abstract art.  Whether they know it or not, Newhouse averred in the selection of these dozen variators, these southern California artists are maintaining a modern tradition.




­Pamela Jorden
by Stephen Maine
April 2007

Pamela Jorden at Klaus von Nichtssagend

This artist-run Williamsburg gallery inaugurated its program two years ago with a solo show by Pamela Jorden, a young Los Angeles-based adherent of a reemergent gestural abstraction. The five untitled oil-on-linen paintings, all dated 2006, in Jorden’s recent return engagement are structured primarily through the accretion of lots of little, local marks, gathering flicks and flourishes of the brush and palette knife in more or less discrete and often unbroken “tube” colors against a brooding, dark ground. The parsimonious paint handling emphasizes tactility, as if the painter were feeling her way across her surfaces. The interaction of hues functions not to establish the illusion of space so much as to suggest a psychological resonance embodying the opposing impulses of “sunshine and noir,” to borrow Lars Nittve’s phrase describing the L.A. zeitgeist.

The paintings almost coalesce into depiction but resist. In one, 40 inches square, a flurry of fidgety marks in primaries, neutralized secondaries and transparent whites is piled up against the right side, as if blown there by a gust of wind. The massing of brushy swatches in two others seems to have drifted toward the top, and hovers above the shadowy, broadly painted expanses. Copious blacks and near-blacks hold the palette’s prettiness in check and, far from vacant, they advance as active, churning, sonorous fields, attended to just as thoughtfully, if not as conspicuously, as the busier areas. A rough trapezoid in matte and glossy blacks takes over the smallest, 13-inch-square painting, where curling stripes in saturated primary hues retreat to the upper right corner. Here Jorden’s skittish touch settles into a determined scribble and scrape, and the composition is as anchored as the others are off-kilter.

In command of her vocabulary, Jorden is in the process of formulating a deeply idiosyncratic statement. But her studied contrasts – between high-key and murky passages, thin and fat lines, a fast and a slow touch – can feel contrived. A perky curlicue made with a very small brush provides variety in the scale of mark-making, but seems rote. And she must work through the influence of Amy Sillman. In resolving these issues, the artist has her work cut out for her, but the vitality and focus of this exhibition suggest that she is equal to the task. The largest and most ambitious of the canvases, at 7 by 5 feet, unspools fascinatingly. Out of a jostling cluster of vigorous, Dufyesque squiggles in eager hues sprout five stripes of transparent white, splayed across a tarry ground and shooting off the top edge. The lower half of the painting is dynamite, a ramshackle avalanche of painterly notation, as if the floor of the picture had just dropped out. It is loose and particular at once. The jumble of intention and improvisation feels stumbled upon, not located, and suggests what might happen if Jorden relaxed her grip a little, relinquished a bit of control, let her work steer itself.



Issue 338: natural flavor

November 28, 2006
Flavorpill NYC
ART: Pamela Jorden

An LA painter with a New York School heart, Pamela Jorden is among those young artists making works that are meant to be enjoyed for what they are. Traditional formal devices (composition, perspective, chiaroscuro) are given a new life with a recklessly colorful palette. The show's biggest piece (the works are all untitled) recalls a de Chirico landscape; a long wall of reds, blues, and greens recedes to a vanishing point at the center of the canvas. The pockets of painterly intensity are separated from those of subtlety, as in a smaller square canvas, which is three-quarters black on black, with a messy series of blues, greys, and whites bleeding from the top-right corner.

H. G. Masters



June 2006

‘[keep feeling] Fascination’ at Luckman Gallery

In [keep feeling] Fascination:  Recent Abstract Paintings in Los Angeles, Luckman Gallery curator Julie Joyce has amassed a group of twelve young L.A. artists who, as the exhibition’s upbeat title implies, show no signs of growing exhausted with the possibilities of abstract painting – or, for that matter, with the basic properties of paint.  It goes without saying these days that painting is far from dead.  But as the works in this exhibition demonstrate, the same cannot be said for the perceived gulf between abstraction and representation.  Many of the twenty-six paintings on view fall somewhere along a continuum; looking at them, it’s possible to envision a time in the not-too-distant future when using the terms “abstract” and “representational” as a primary means of classifying new painting will cease to make any sense at all, if it hasn’t already.  Which is not to say that the premise of the Luckman exhibition is misguided.  On the contrary, it succeeds in doing what Joyce surely intended;  to pose questions about the nature of abstraction in contemporary painting.  Just as importantly, beyond bringing together the work of some very promising local artists, the exhibition provides real insight into Los Angeles’s current painting scene.
Entering the gallery, you are immediately confronted with Steve Roden’s human scale (my body floating over the silent world, where bells sound like rainbows), which virtually quivers with a queer, sharp electricity.  One of the strongest works in the exhibition, it consists of a loose web of bell shapes rimmed with vibrant lines of color, from bright turquoise to lime to intense orange.  The work is certainly abstract, but like all of Roden’s paintings, it was created through a meticulous process of translating specific material (recent sources have included a classical musical score found in his grandmother’s garage and the title of Jacques Cousteau’s The Silent World) into line and color via a complex, self-invented system that recalls the methods of Alfred Jensen.
In several other paintings in the exhibition, representation appears to lie just out of reach, distorted by abstraction as if through a carefully doctored lens.  Tyler Vlahovich’s three paintings (all untitled) balance chaotic explosion and controlled geometry; they look a lot like barely obscured graffiti, or space stations, or circuit boards, but steer well clear of giving up anything explicit.  Stan Kaplan contributes two large canvases that seem to borrow their quality of light and color straight from sunny impressionist paintings:  Painting with Crimson and Mauve (2004) is reminiscent of an idyllic garden scene that’s been obliterated with strokes of an enormous brush.  Portia Hein’s Untitled (2005) and Untitled (2006), both graceful paintings with leggy forms rendered in soft black watercolor and acrylic, refer unmistakably to leaves and stems.  On the other end of the spectrum is Rebecca Morris, whose Untitled (#10-05) (2005), with its arrangement of large scruffy geometric shapes on a dirty brown background, really is pure abstraction.  Despite the austere colors and rigidly symmetrical composition, Morris infuses her painting with humor:  the hand-drawn shapes, outlined with wobbly borders, are noticeably out of alignment.
Now that certain iconic motifs of past abstract painting are part of our collective image bank, they can be freely appropriated by contemporary artists alongside all other kinds of imagery – which means that in new painting, abstraction can be indistinguishable from representations of abstraction, and vice versa.  For instance, the chalky, curlicue lines and loosely wadded areas of pigment in Pamela Jorden’s Untitled (2005) bring Cy Twombly immediately to mind, while Will Fowler’s jaunty crisscrossing lines of blocked colors in an untitled painting of 2004 resurrect Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie.  This type of slippage is interesting, not problematic, and both artists use the imagery to good effect.  Jorden’s work, where an expanse of deep black paint compresses the tangle of Twombly-like language into a funnel shape, is particularly compelling.
In this age of splintered art practices, and especially in the sprawling mishmash of cultures, aesthetics, and landscape that is L.A., it can be hard (and arguably useless) to find unifying themes among the work of contemporary artists – or even, increasingly, in the work of any individual artist.  The Luckman exhibition, however, does reveal some significant common threads, with a tendency toward preserving evidence of the artist’s hand chief among them.  While the twelve artists use a variety of media, from oil paint to wax to spraypaint to joint compound, no one seems interested in making paintings that keep the hand at a remove:  there are no glossy enamel surfaces reminiscent of shiny cars, no entirely flat surfaces that look like computer graphics.  Most if not all of the paintings include very visible brushstrokes, from Amy Wheeler’s spare paintings of vertical ones on white grounds to the broad black ones in Kris Chatterson’s Dissent (2006).
As a whole, the paintings seem marked by an enduring love of paint and a confidence in painting’s viability and relevance.  These are not the paintings of artists looking anxiously over their shoulders at the newer media nipping at their heels; they are not the paintings of artist made uneasy by the huge shadow of the Hollywood film industry.  Slickness and glamour do not seem primary concerns – in fact, two artists have contributed work that is fantastically, unabashedly ugly.  One is Rebecca Morris; the other is Ruby Neri.  Neri’s three paintings, none exceeding thirty inches on a side, are one of the exhibition’s highlights.  Deliberately and unsentimentally executed in the style of an untalented elementary school student, they make use of obsessive borders, scribbled backgrounds and garish combinations of magic-marker colors applied thinly and dryly to the canvas.  The paintings speak to the elusive nature of beauty – how desperately pursuing it tends to destroy it.  They seem to ask at what point, and why, beauty spills into ugliness.
As a pulse-taking exhibition, [keep feeling] Fascination is an effective, enjoyable and informative one.  Beyond adding further confirmation to the idea that artists themselves remain enthralled by the possibilities of abstract painting, it fulfills another promise equally contained in its title:  that the work, in turn, keeps viewers fascinated too.

                –Katherine Satorius
Katherine Satorius is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles



Dateline Brooklyn

by Stephen Maine
December, 2004

Los Angeles-based painter Pamela Jorden recently debuted in New York at the recently inaugurated Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery on Union Avenue. Her vibrant squiggles, bloops and curlicues of saturated color and their tints bunch up and settle into a bottom-heavy landscape space, dominated by scruffy, ominous black grounds. The eight new, untitled paintings that were on view are not large -- the biggest is three feet square -- but they teem with painterly energy, and with a concern for the emotional weight of line translated into physical, gravitational weight like you see in Guston, Bacon and Amy Sillman.

A CalArts grad, Jorden is one of an increasing number of young painters taking an interest in a gestural approach to abstraction that seemed all but forsaken not long ago. Hers are oil on canvas and on linen, priced in the $1,200 to $2,800 range. Run by a group of artists (none of them named von Nichtssagend) the modest storefront gallery plans renovations, and a full schedule for the foreseeable future.




Elizabeth Pence, "'The Next Wave: New Abstract Painting in Los Angeles' at Black Dragon Society", Artweek, May 2004, p. 21.

Pamela Jorden's untitled works feature a black ground of acrylic on a small canvas support with either a web or an accumulation of coiling spirals, using the tighter hand and wrist articulation of drawing or writing.  Conceived through the physicality of the materials, the paintings seem to ask, "Can abstract painting have a metaphorical function? Isn't it then representation?"