CHICAGO — The first thing that strikes you about Randi Russo’s show of paintings at Thomas Masters Gallery is the lines, swirling and looping around every canvas like an automatic drawing taken to an extreme degree. When the lines are drawn in charcoal, the color areas they delineate recall Jackson Pollock’s early paintings. When the lines are painted, they look vaguely like late paintings by Willem de Kooning. Russo’s works all share a reliance on the unconscious gesture — induced by the effect of Alzheimer’s in de Kooning’s case, of course, but nevertheless the results are similar, in that the surface of the painting is primarily about the rhythm of an uncontrolled line, which works in tension with the apparently more purposeful additions of color and shape.
Russo, who is both a painter and a musician, discusses her parallel career as a singer-songwriter as an influence on her art. “I do see a relation between painting and music, particularly with abstract painting,” she told Hyperallergic. “Music itself is abstract. Abstraction communicates through feeling; it hits us emotionally. It is the music that lures us in, much like the flow found inside line, shape, and color. During the creative process, both music and art come from a gestural place that’s intuitive, filled with gesture, emotion, suggestion. They take on different forms coming out of the same intuitive space.”
Some of the paintings are sparsely executed, such as “Blue Born,” which consists mainly of blue and black lines that push the drawing to the fore. Others, like “Pinnacle,” are drawn with watercolor sticks that make the edges of the lines bleed, resulting in an effect that comes close to classic “drip” painting. In a few paintings, like “In My Mind All the Time,” there appears to be more of a struggle between the ease with which Russo draws her lines and a latent anxiety about what to do with the spaces in between the resulting shapes. This painting is more satisfying because of that process: instead of being resolved quickly, Russo seems to have filled in shapes with acid colors and delineated objects that nearly resemble eyes, faces, and heads, only to scrape them out and start over again. A messy patch of thick paint materializes next to a delicate wash of color. All of these gestures vie for prominence on the canvas, and none of them win the battle entirely.
In many of the paintings in this show, it seemed that Russo was just strumming the guitar, albeit pleasantly. But in paintings like “In My Mind All The Time,” she starts thrashing the chords a bit more, and making a louder, more compelling sound.
Randi Russo: Life Lines continues at Thomas Masters Gallery (245 West North Avenue, Chicago) through February 8.