The Velocity of Vision: Deborah Rosenthal’s Geography
Deborah Rosenthal: Geography at Bowery Gallery
May 19 to June 13, 2015
530 West 25th Streets, Fourth Floor, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 646-230-6655
Deborah Rosenthal is a painter deeply engaged in dialogues between past and present, between the world within and the domain beyond the studio. “Geography: Recent Paintings,” her current exhibition at the Bowery Gallery, encompasses familiar motifs from the past decade of her work, and introduces new lines of investigation spurred by her ongoing exploration of the nature of time, landscape, family bonds, and metaphors of sight and sensation. This expansive exhibition coheres readily on the walls while lending itself to unhurried contemplation of individual works. The body of work on view is unified by many of the influences that have shaped Rosenthal’s thinking: the spatial and temporal investigations of early modernists such as Georges Braque, Robert Delaunay, and Paul Klee, as well as an interest in Romanesque sculpture and 17th-century French landscape painting.
Rosenthal often emphasizes the metaphorical power of framing. Doubled Landscape (Familiar Sights) (2011) and Paired Scenes (2013) are each structured by meandering, scalloped, and angular lines that activate the borders of each canvas/world, and further enclose interior scenes that contain figures, houses, and landscape elements. This compositional device evokes the flags and fabrics of vintage French circus tents, whose billowy stripes entice spectators to approach and peek at what’s inside. Landscape in the Studio (2014) gives us Rosenthal’s signature M-shaped mountains, and then pops the ground plane forward (note the grisaille cast shadows) with a riot of spectral-colored forms that merge Robert Delaunay’s Simultaneous Windows of 1912 with Jean Hélion’s Mannequinerie en solde (1978). Rosenthal, incidentally, is one of the most learned writers on the work of Hélion, having curated an exhibition of his paintings in New York in 2012 and edited Double Rhythm, a collection of his writings on art, published in 2014 by Arcade.
Rosenthal is perpetually concerned with the “what-ifs” of the painting process. She considers the velocity with which our vision moves across a painted surface as well as the relationship of the center of vision to the periphery. Her attention to facture is evident in paint surfaces that are texturally rich and varied. I have always appreciated how Rosenthal arrives at the colors that we perceive. Look closely and you will see, as in Pierre Bonnard, that what appear to be shapes of solid color are actually shifting strokes, daubs, and veils of various hues that coalesce in the upper layers. This is particularly evident in Country Matters, where passages of scumbled black are actually mixtures of dark blue-violets, red-oranges, and greens that read as freshly-tilled soil — a possible reference to the artist’s familiarity with the rural landscape, and changing seasons of New York’s Sullivan County.
The Three of Them ties together a couple in classical profile looking in on an infant, in a triple-pendant of chartreuse greens, greyed pinks, and citron yellows. This boisterous baby inhabits her own bubble — a vortex that exerts a centrifugal force — as she stretches arms and legs against the boundaries of her enclosure. June, or What I Thought I Knew contains a figure whose regal, Roman head is clearly delineated and whose body — a loose arrangement of pale grey lines — dissolves within a milky white form that could be water, sky, or glacial crevasse. Another figure (a twin, or foil?) emerges from a cleft in the landscape, moving beyond this place with a more deliberate gesture.
Just as books open upon multiple narratives and surprising conclusions, and maps unfold to reveal enticing destinations, Deborah Rosenthal’s paintings, it seems to me, offer many points of departure from which to view our surroundings and our lives.