ITHACA, NY — Some of my regular readers may ask: why devote so much attention, week after week, to the seemingly marginal and esoteric genre of abstract painting? Why, when one might join the crowds in celebrating populist Ithaca artists like Alice Muhlback (who recently exhibited at The Gallery at South Hill) or Ryan B. Curtis – who currently has a pop-up gallery in the center -town ? Why then when one could praise the chops of local traditionalists like Brian Keeler, William Benson or, more convincingly in good measure, Carlton Manzano? Why when one could acclaim, uncritically or in a spirit of wry indulgence, the college-hipster connection that ties Cornell and Ithaca College to the local DIY underground?
A correct answer would require a full-fledged essay. Suffice it to say here that painting has a language of its own and abstract painting, when done well, concentrates that language into rich, concentrated poetry. This is a painting for people who love painting, who are ready to delve deeper into storytelling and ‘relevance’ – to capture the ways colors and shapes can communicate human meaning.
Last week I wrote about the work of New York painter Ellen Weider, which remains on view (until May 28) at Corners Gallery. An interesting – and unexpected – addition to his work opened last Friday at the Grayhaven Motel, which hosts monthly exhibitions and other cultural events. Rafael Lino, a painter from Connecticut with local connections, presents “Now and Again”, a series of acrylic on panel paintings. The show remains in place until the end of the month.
Filling the elegant yet welcoming main common room inside the Grayhaven office building, these domestic scale paintings have something of a pastiche character. Richly multicolored and impeccably crafted, Lino’s abstract pieces here most often combine floral or amoebic “biomorphic” forms with a sample of the artist’s geometric lexicon: boxes, diagonals, zig-zags, x’s and v’s. The subtle overlap and texture of the brushwork adds weight to these somewhat cartoonish shapes and arrangements – something lost if one does not see these paintings in the flesh.
Unusual for an ambitious artist today, Lino claims no particular deep meaning for these paintings. My point of view is that a painting has its own intentions, rather apart from those of the artist. An artist’s inarticulation doesn’t matter – or isn’t even welcome – when the painting itself “speaks”. Such is the case here.
“Inside Out”, one of the largest pieces here at 18” x 24″, reveals Lino’s work in its wildest joy. Against a dull gray-green background, a bright, branching turquoise line winds like a labyrinth. Contained within: a riot of petal shapes, sometimes solid, sometimes subtly translucent. Deep, saturated reds, blues, yellows and pinks intertwine with pale blues and warm grays. Without diminishing the work to a specific and narrow interpretation, the suggestion is that of animate life – be it leaves, flowers or animal bodies – contained or even imprisoned but nonetheless bursting with light and life.
As hung, two larger pieces of square format (24″ x 24″) serve as bookends for the exhibition. “Grid (yellow)” and the deliberately very similar “Grid (blue)” are reminiscent of game boards with their precise grid of squares – each marked with a sharp “x” – and exact left/right symmetry. As elsewhere in Lino’s oeuvre, bright, vibrant borders, here echoing the overall rigidity of the paintings, act as both outlines and ‘figures’ in their own right, standing out above the fray.
Elsewhere, Lino’s strategy of hanging paired and linked pieces side by side helps give the show a distinctive consistency and rhythm that expands on what each of the pieces does individually.
Overlapping amoeboid shapes cover broken stick-like diagonals in five pieces from Lino’s “Forms” series. If you look closely, you can see that the first do not entirely hide the second, which stand out as if in relief.
“Now and Again” demonstrates geometric abstraction’s continued capacity for fun and depth. Moreover, it offers a reminder of the power of Ithaca’s most remote art venues to deliver surprise and challenge. In conjunction with other recent and new art venues like The Rest, The Downstairs, The Cherry Gallery and The Soil Factory, it offers a rebuke to those who would complain about the paucity of opportunities to view or exhibit works .