Alchemy

Tangled Palms, Bonnie Wolsky

Tangled Palms, Bonnie Wolsky

“I treat each shape as a painting in itself.” –Bonnie Wolsky

The current show at Oxford Gallery, Frame of Reference, submits for your consideration the work of eleven artists as evidence for James Hall’s curatorial thesis that all abstract art is, at some level, representational. The eye instinctively struggles to recognize a figure in the carpet, as it were, and this reflexive impulse gives the best abstract work a vital tension as the mind tries to reconcile the abstract patterns with what the mind imagines it sees, based on them. The work is all excellent, yet, as if to confirm what Hall says about abstraction in the fine catalog he produced for the show, the paintings that most captivated me were also the most literally representational. Bonnie Wolsky’s all-over watercolor images of tangled palm fronds work as finely rendered realistic images as well as purely abstract patterns of line, value, and the extremely restrained hues of precious metal. She works from photographs as a source, but improvises and alters what she sees as she goes. Her fronds cascade down the paper in spidery streaks and they often shimmer and gleam like hair in a shampoo ad. It’s quietly seductive, so quiet that you can walk through the gallery and glance at them without staying long until you come back and suddenly pause long enough to see what’s there. Each strap-like frond is rendered with all the care of a distinct, separate object in a still life: she draws flawless long outlines and then works within them, improvising with color, sometimes (I’m told) dropping grains of salt into the drying paint to create little crystalline patterns, like frost on a window. What’s so immensely persuasive about the work is how it’s simultaneously so flat and yet so deep: the eye and mind are constantly flipping back and forth between a recognition of the abstract pattern and the sense of three-dimensionality created by the areas of dark background, peeking through the fingers of palm, or shining off little foreshortened areas where the fronds swerve away from the viewer into the depths behind what seems to be hanging on the actual surface of the paper. The effect is meditative and spiritual, as light shines up from within a thicket of dried vegetation, transforming the dead material into lustrous hues of platinum and gold. In short, it’s alchemy. Go to see all the work in this show, but pause long enough at Wolsky’s work to really notice what’s there.

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