You could build a new religion around Gregg Renfrow’s artwork. His abstract compositions—polymer and pigment poured onto cast-acrylic panels—are so luminous and elemental, they inspire a reverence normally reserved for deities. Each piece features a central motif roughly the shape of a rectangle, surrounded by shapes that echo its contours. They evoke the monolithic forms of millennia past: the standing stones of Britain, the heads of Easter Island, the totem, the obelisk, the altar, the phallus. These archetypes seize the eye and imagination and command both to pay obeisance. There’s something mystical or psychedelic about the echoing shapes as well; they radiate like tracers, expanding in a way that suggests vibration or movement.
Renfrow is also a virtuoso of color. In Emanations, the central form grades through a brilliant continuum of sunflower, butter and lemon yellows before giving way to a twilight of cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine and aquamarine. In the piece that gives the show its title, Dream With Your Eyes Open, inky blacks yield to grays and vivid purples. Not all the pieces are so saturated, however. In Speaking and Memory of Water, the central shapes are the same color as the backgrounds, their forms suggested only by outlines on the panels or, in some cases, a second panel placed behind it. It’s as if the forms are in the process of evaporating or leaving their bodies.
suggestion of dematerialization links Renfrow not only with fellow
exponents of the California Light and Space movement, such as James
Turrell and Robert Irwin, but also to abstract expressionist Mark
Rothko. Rothko’s mature style involved floating rectangular shapes that
seemed to dissolve in a misty haze, much as Renfrow’s forms do. It’s
notable that the Rothko Chapel in Houston uses paintings as a vehicle to
dissolve the boundaries between light, color, form and spirit. Looking
at Renfrow’s panels, it’s impossible not to imagine what they would look
like lining a cathedral, like stained glass. But until that commission,
we’re thrilled to see the artist’s work wherever we can find it. These
magnificent works, in their way, turn any room into a temple.
SEE IT: Dream With Your Eyes Open is at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 NW 9th Ave., 224-0521. Through June 28.