May 3, 2009

Marcia Hafif: Still finding possiblities within a severely restricted practice

Edith Newhall reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer that after decades of painting monochromaticly, Marcia Hafif, now in her seventies, has added a second color. "The artist was a highly respected monochromatic painter of several decades' standing, and her single-color abstract paintings - made with pigments she ground herself - were intended to inspire calm and concentration. You felt sure there would never be an about-face on the level of Brice Marden's switch from monochromatic panels to the lyrical calligraphic abstraction he's practiced since the mid-1980s. To those who've paid attention to Hafif's artistic evolution, though, one alteration she made about three years ago still seems bold for a painter who built an international reputation on her single-color canvases and whose devotion to monochromatic painting put her smack in the center of the 1980s 'Radical Painting Group.'

"Out of the blue - or so it seemed - Hafif began combining two colors in her paintings, and quickly launched two series of them. She has since moved on to a third body of two-hued works, 'Fresco Paintings,' which are being shown at Larry Becker Contemporary Art. Hafif's new paintings are not frescoes - they're in oil on canvas - but are inspired by the colors in the fresco paintings of the Italian Renaissance painters Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca, and the relationships between those hues. More often than not, a vertical section of pale blue is a constant, paired with a vertical section of a different width painted in a darker color (including raw sienna, golden green, vine black, and 'Italian brown pink lake'). The gallery is displaying five monochromatic paintings from Hafif's 1991 'Table of Pigments' in the back gallery, all featuring heavier, more opaque paint surfaces than her new works, whose transparent paint application dates from her shimmering 'Glaze Paintings' of 2004.

"Reading about Hafif's work without ever having seen it in person, you might come to this exhibition expecting to experience the impressively formidable restrictions she has set herself during her nearly five-decade career as a minimal, formerly monochrome, painter. But you will likely walk through this show contemplating the endless and marvelous possibilities Hafif has afforded herself."

"Marcia Hafif: From the Table of Pigments and Fresco Paintings," Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA. Through May 30.

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