Several of Eleanor Ray’s delectable postcard-sized portrait sketches of cultural locales take as their motif Donald Judd’s Soho studio, which is now a museum. Like all the works in this show, they are characterized by creamy, muted pastel tones, understated yet precise brushstrokes and an impressionistic soft-focus that belies their miniaturist precision. And yet for such softly lit, touchingly observed and sweetly dispatched little pictures – Gwen John-like in their quietude – they actually constitute a rather ballsy provocation to this most doctrinaire of minimal artists with his strictures on specific objects and the presumed exhaustion of painting. They discover a reductive purity in sharply delineated architecture and found serial repetitions, not despite but through loving attention to mimetic and climatic detail—the way shadows fall on walls, for instance. Sills and panes rhyme with minimal artworks while intersecting planes of tabletops, chair backs and door frames are Judd-like modalities, these observations all the while cohabiting with Hopperesque atmospherics, a melancholy of time and place. As Nora Griffin astutely observes in her catalogue introduction, these paintings “remind us that the finest realism can sometimes communicate abstraction with greater efficacy than an ‘abstract’ painting can.” Architecture observed is indistinguishable in her handling from architectonics deployed. DAVID COHEN
Eleanor Ray, 101 Spring Street, 2014. Oil on panel, 6 x 8 inches. Courtesy of Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects.
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