Contributed by Kim Uchiyama / Intriguingly titled “Light Phrase,” Jill Nathanson’s current exhibition at Berry Campbell Gallery features luminous planes of crystalline color meeting and overlapping in harmony. The color is sensual, the light carefully calibrated, the edges thoughtfully considered. These new paintings, many larger in scale than her previous work, are physically prepossessing and evoke primal sensations.
Nathanson begins with small “drawings” of approximately eight inches, which use overlapping sheets of colored, transparent gels. From these maquettes, which she doesn’t regard as quite art, she scales up selected images to larger wood panels, some as long as 95 inches. The panels are placed on the floor and paint is poured on their surfaces, its pooling determined by the way in which the artist lifts and tilts them. It’s tempting to compare her paintings to those of other paint-pourers like Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. But Nathanson’s process is rendered unique by her meticulous development of the image in advance of composing the actual painting, which cleverly simulates spontaneity.
Nathanson starts a painting by mixing a custom acrylic medium with pigment, so that the genuine, permanent color and texture of the image emerge only when the paint has fully dried. This procedural inventiveness does justice to the poetically charged vistas she explores. Abstractly, she captures the lushness of nature as well as the resonance of music. Color creates light that feels both pristine and essential, offering a glimpse into timeless and edenic realms that nonetheless seem possible. The paintings map contemplative spaces that promise psychic growth and transformation. Among other things, they show that contemporary art can still meaningfully engage unconscious processes, fusing the material and ethereal.
At her best, Nathanson converts her materials into art with lucid clarity. Some of her titles – Elixir, Sparkshift, Light Measure – suggest supernatural inspiration. Others – Octaves Red, Lute Life, Chordzephyr – straightforwardly adopt the terminology of music. As the unusual word juxtapositions in some of the titles suggest, viewing these works can elicit subtle shifts in consciousness. One result is a kind of synesthesia, whereby it seems possible to hear color, and see music. Good painters are supposed to work such strange wonders with paint and canvas, and Nathanson fulfills that aspiration. Her sublime new pieces attest that abstract painting is alive and well in the 21st century.
“Jill Nathanson: Light Phrase,” Berry Campbell Gallery, 530 W. 24th Street, New York, NY. Through February 6.
About the author: Kim Uchiyama is a painter who has had solo exhibitions at John Davis Gallery, Hudson, NY; Spazio Contemporaneo Agora, Palermo, Italy; Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, Bridgehamption; and Lohin Geduld Gallery, New York. She is a recipient of many fellowships including New York Foundation For The Arts, MacDowell Colony, and BAU Institute in Puglia, Italy.