Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Schemas and Terrains: Margrit Lewczuk + Rockwell Kent

Maps, or signs, conflate landscape with diagram, transforming geography into hybrid schemas. Wikipedia defines shema: "The word schema comes from the Greek word "σχήμα" (skhēma), which means shape, or more generally, plan. Schema may refer to:Model (abstract), Diagram, or Schematic, a diagram that represents the elements of a system using abstract, graphic symbols." The distancing layer of stylization help us navigate unfamiliar space; visually, it presages digital screens. I think about schemas after seeing Margrit Lewczuk's exhibition, Drawing Into Paint. Her works re-interpret non-western sources as abstract systems similar to maps or signs. They alchemize graphite, gouache and paint into mysterious patterns that juggle allusions to figure and landscape while merging a map's reductive topologies with the colorful brevity of signage. 

Click the header above to visit Lewczuk's website, and peruse the Brooklyn Rail interview to read about her experiences as a painter. Even better, head to Janet Kurnatowski in Greenpoint to see the paintings live! Check the gallery's website here: http://www.janetkurnatowskigallery.com/

Lewczuk's paintings are pure buoyancy, saturating the light-filled gallery with sonorous, resonant hues barely contained in deceptively simple demarcations of space. Four large paintings anchor the whole, orbited by collages and drawings. It's like entering a 3-d version of the artist's brain. Unique relationships emerge between works: a tiny reddish-purple study parked at the bottom corner of a large, predominantly green painting holds both paintings in mutual abeyance, through the vibration of its intense darks. Correspondences and cross-reference circulate the show. Many of the works portray an image-pattern one might associate with a rounded cruciform, insect head or African textile. Their color and placement of material, texture and edge is extremely specific in a way that anticipates image, but the works abstain from recognizable form. They instead harness structure in the service of materials; deckled or cut edges, surfaces of cascading paint and ferocious graphite markings, contained in discrete areas, vacillate rhythmically together, delighting and enrapturing the eye.

Another version of schema re-emerges in Rockwell Kent's Greenland paintings: Greenland People, Dogs and Mountains, c. 1932-35, oil on canvas mounted on panel, 28 1/8 x 48 inches, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, below. Kent's Greenland paintings are new discoveries, thanks to Steve Martin's art-world yarn, An Object of Beauty. It's interesting to think about how his stylized terrains and Lewczuk's joyous investigations of color and structure approach composition over the seventy year period that divides them.