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February 6th, 2001 Lisa Lambert | Visual Arts
 

BIG THINKING

Four artists fill space with color and texture.

     
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Prepare to be awed. The current pop electricity in each of the expansive paintings exhibited at Marylhurst University's Art Gym claws at the senses and screams to be admired. Exponential: 4 Huge Paintings consists of, well, huge paintings by four West Coast artists--one of the bigger pieces is 7 feet by 21 feet. The sizzle originates in their density of paint as well as their extreme size. Even though some require a meditative approach in viewing, all of the paintings are what painting should be: immediate and overpowering.

Gallery visitors first discover Whitney Nye's piece, Untitled Installation. Inspired by a recent trip to India, Nye coats her canvas's background with reds and ochres. She insists that the piece is an installation rather than a painting, which is apt. The whole work feels like a series of sculptural reliefs in an abstract scrapbook. Nye cast plaster beads in ice-cube trays, decorated all sides of the beads and then applied them to her canvas in a series of circles. Accompanying these are smaller, quilt-like paintings also attached to the work. Nye seems concerned with the miniature, cramming as many images as possible into ever-shrinking spaces. Each of the individually installed pieces holds up quite well on its own. Presented in combination, the components highlight each other, accenting and illuminating their companion parts' different features. Supposedly, it was Nye's fine, detailed work that gave Art Gym curator Teri Hopkins the idea to host an exhibition of large paintings.

Michael Knutson takes a different approach with his four-canvas piece, Tilted Tetra Coil. Light-colored hexagonal lattices join across a dark ground to create a never-ending spiral. Oh, what a trip it is to find a pattern in the spiral and then see it dissolve into free-floating shapes. Knutson's brush strokes are so clean, the shapes so clearly discernible, that the piece appears to have been drawn rather than painted. It's staggering to think of the amount of care Knutson has put into painting an area of more than 140 feet. His artist's statement warns that the work is not connected to language, mathematics or music, but such linkages are too fitting to be ignored. The painting resonates with the themes and variations, the rigid structure and the free emotion, of a symphonic masterpiece.

Jeffrey Simmons' Sketch for Echo is far less complicated. For Exponential, Simmons has filled a circle with gradients of color, leaving a center horizontal strip off-white. The resulting harmony is calming and soothing. Sketch for Echo's size gives the viewer the opportunity to virtually swim in its color and light.

There is nothing soothing about Philip Krohn's The Blackbird Nebula Trilogy or its accompanying video. Here, garish colors dance and mix across the canvas in a variety of abstract shapes. The work doesn't have Tilted Tetra Coil's depth or Sketch for Echo's ambience, but it stands well on its own merits. It is bold and flat and painterly. There's something frantic about the trilogy, as if it were painted with overabundant exuberance. While The Blackbird Nebula Trilogy (its title is supposed to be humorous, political and environmental--you figure it out) feels out of synch with the intellectual demands of the other works, it injects a good dose of glee and excitement into the show.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein specialized in texts that could make your head spin. I've never enjoyed reading Wittgenstein, but I've always kept one fun fact about him in mind. Dear ol' Ludwig sat front row and center at all movies. He didn't want to see the lifelike images or become concerned with the mundane plot. Luddy's whole aim in going to movies was to be consumed by the experience. He wanted to see distorted faces, hear loud music, wonder at the lights and colors, and, basically, live something larger than life. Lud would have liked Exponential. If these paintings were films, they'd be Cinemascope with THX sound.


Exponential: 4 Huge Paintings
The Art Gym, Marylhurst University, B.P. John Administration Building, third floor, 699-6243. Noon-4 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. Closes Feb. 15.)
 
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