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PHILADELPHIA — When I read that Quicktime would be the name of the latest exhibition at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Apple’s video editing software of the same name crossed my mind. Video actually has nothing to do with the show. The exhibition includes abstract paintings, most of them large, all finished quickly, by five different painters.
Quicktime takes its cue from Raphael Rubinstein’s “Provisional Painting,” published in the May 2009 issue of Art in America. In the essay, Rubinstein discusses a handful of artists — Albert Oehlen and Mary Heilmann among them— who seem to “turn away from ‘strong’ painting” in favor of works “that look casual, dashed-off, tentative, unfinished or self-cancelling.” Joan Miró, who rejected the idea of the “finished, durable work,” represents an early practitioner of “provisional painting” for Rubinstein.
Patricia Treib, who has two works in oil on canvas in the show, finishes a painting the day she starts it, and strives to work with what’s in front of her, in the spirit of improvisation. As she said in an interview with Joe Fyfe:
I want the work to appear as if it’s about to change or is in the process
of shifting. I want there to be moments of ambiguity as to where one
form ends and another form begins. A shifting quality as to the points
of contact between things, clear assertions of one thing meeting another,
but contradiction in terms of them existing all at the same time. There’s an absurdity to it.
In “Le Smoking” (2012) and “Camera (I)” (2013), the pronounced brushstrokes visualize the physicality of the paintings and emphasize “the process of shifting” that interests Treib. Her surfaces are generally flat and the thin oil paint occasionally contains tiny clumps of debris or brush hairs. The sides of “Le Smoking” seem smudged with soot, as if handled by a chimney sweep.
Like Treib’s brush strokes, Melissa Meyer’s paintings, reminiscent of 1980s subway graffiti, reflect the body’s movement during the creation of the painting. Meyer paints on the floor and works in oil thinned to the consistency of watercolor. There are no clumps of paint that could slow the eye down as it moves across the work. The title and contrast between the purple, black, and white in “Draw the Line” (2015) emphasize the clusters of movement on the canvas.
“Walk the Line” (2011), rewards the viewer with extended looking. Underneath the more dominant blues, pinks, and oranges, there are subtle cream squares in the lower corners and the middle. The painter wants us to stand there a while. This is a good challenge — how many viewers actually have the patience or stamina to stand and look at something that isn’t giving them a scattershot feed of information? Everything belongs on that canvas, not because an algorithm determined it, but because the artist put it there.
The biomorphic shapes in “Mars Arms” and “Sooty Sweat” (both 2016) by Amy Feldman felt like alien beings that drew me in. In both, Feldman’s brushstrokes are short and quick. “Sooty Sweat” might just have the thickest paint in the entire show, while the lines in “Mars Arms,” though imperfect, convey austerity.
The anagrammatic title of “Mars Arms” is wonderfully suggestive. Saying it aloud, I think of the arms of Mars, which could either embrace or push away. However, there is no possessive apostrophe in the title. These aren’t Mars’s arms, after all. It seems more likely that these shapes are the arms (weapons) for the Roman god of war. Feldman’s rendering of the straight and curved lines, along with the small openings in the biomorphic shape, remind me of the mazes that I used to love doing as a child. Is that part of Mars’s plan? Perhaps Feldman’s work is half as dark as I’m suggesting. If the title were more bland, “Untitled,” say, or “Gray and Gray,” then I would read less into the shape Feldman presents.
All of this Mars business gets more intriguing with Marina Adams’s “What Venus Said to Mars” (2016) hanging catty-corner from Feldman’s work. Adams’s painting, in acrylic on linen, creates a vulvic center with contrasting orange and blue diamond shapes. The title, once again, plays a determining role in the reading of the painting. According to ancient Roman mythology, Venus and Mars engaged in an adulterous affair. Interestingly, Renaissance depictions of their love show Mars unarmed. Does their love bring an end to violence, or is it simply a small respite from what’s to come?
Adams’s painting resonates with Caroline Wells Chandler’s “Strange Attractor for Agnes Martin” (2017), which hangs in the gallery’s display window on Broad Street. (Chandler’s work is not part of Quicktime.) Chandler, who trained as a painter, but has recently been working on large crochet figures that explore various dimensions of gender, depicts a female figure in crochet, seemingly bent in half at the waist, exposing her vulva. The difference, of course, is that Adams’s work involves a female saying something to a male, while Chandler references lesbianism by way of Agnes Martin. Rosenwald-Wolf’s decision to display Chandler’s work in their Broad Street window, in affiliation with Lord Ludd, is a smart, visible challenge to gender norms in the era of Trump.
In a show that’s predominately focused on abstract paintings, Ann Craven’s work offers a contrasting perspective. All three of her works are high gloss and involve trees. “Tree (Purple Beech, Cushing, 8-22-13, 10PM)” (2013) seems to fit the dialogue created by the other paintings in the show. The tree in this picture is like a large, dark mass coming out of the surface of the painting. In the upper right portion of the circular mass of limbs and leaves, a bit of blue breaks through, adding some variation to the coloring. Craven inserts some surreal humor with a trunk that’s disconnected from the ground. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of the moon in the other two paintings, but they would make more sense as part of another conversation.
Quicktime’s focus on abstract painting by women is refreshing. Certainly, there are a number of artists — Bruce Nauman comes to mind — that have explored time and duration in their work, but Nauman usually works with video. The passage of time is less visible in painting — the canvas does not move.
If Adams’s works seem more labor intensive than some of the others, the look of the paintings, as she has said, is the result of years of work as a painter. Just as Adams took a long time to arrive at the work she’s doing now, we have to be patient and look for a while, say, longer than seventeen seconds, before we can see what it might mean to move quickly. Painting, right now, seems to me one of the more radical gestures by an artist. It’s equally so for the spectator; sometimes quicktime is actually the result of a longtime. Is it not radical to say, I’m going to stand here and look? I’m going to stand here and think.
Quicktime continues at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery (333 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) through April 22.