DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       Fall 2002  

   

Paul Resika
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries
20 East 79 Street, New York
October 29 to November 30, 2002

By ELIZABETH VON STADE

 

 


Paul Resika's vibrant new show offers great sensual and cerebral pleasures. The work is emotionally charged and filled with vitality. His color is exuberant, extroverted, reaching out to the viewer. And at the same time these paintings are intensely, quietly controlled. There's nothing off the cuff. Resika plays with ideas about space, light, and color. Every mark, every shape is considered, its essence found.

In this show, Resika gives us a classic Theme and Variations. His ten paintings are based on the same essential composition. This theme is stated most explicitly in Reading Yellow I, in which a woman reclines reading a book, with a tree some distance behind her. She rests in the bottom left corner of the painting, while the tree stands in the top right quadrant, its height cut off by the edge of the canvas. A vase, empty, sits to the right of the woman.

In each painting, the figure and tree occupy similar positions: she's always bottom left, it's always top right. But then the variations begin: To start with, the tree is not always a tree - or not necessarily, anyway. In several paintings it appears as simply a vertical stroke of paint, leaving open other interpretations - a structure of some sort, a door or window? Additional imagery appears and disappears: a cat, a boat, flowers. Sometimes the woman faces the viewer invitingly; sometimes her back is turned. The light and its relationship to the various forms changes from painting to painting. And, perhaps most intriguingly, in each the space feels different, inviting you into and around the painting in a new way.

You can imagine Resika's mind working as he explores different ideas in each painting - from the coloristically and spatially reductive Yellow Delft, to Blue Nude, which has the most traditional space and perhaps the most color of any of the paintings. Looking at a show like this, you long to know in what order the paintings were made, as they so clearly inform each other. It's fascinating to travel through the gallery observing the differences between the works, seeing how those changes affect the whole, and speculating on which painting led to the next.

The pictures appear quite uncomplicated at first blush. They are built on a simple composition using large blocks of color; the color is usually subtly modulated, occasionally completely flat. But give these paintings time; they unfold slowly. The more time you spend with these pictures the more exciting and involving they become. They are flat and spatial at the same time, creating a strong tension as areas of color move forward and recede.

Resika paints deep colors thinly. This allows underpainted layers - his earlier ideas about the painting - to show through, giving the works a kind of density. The forms within the pictures have a quality of being found through the process of painting -- not simply applied onto the canvas. This sense of process and the painting's evolution gives the work a vitality, almost as if it were an organic thing that had reached its current state naturally. This process is more evident in some paintings than in others.

The pictures literally pulsate with light and color. In Resika's strongest paintings, such as Sisters and Reverie, Red Boat, his intense colors play off of equally intense "non-colors"- strange grays and brownish hues - that help ground the painting provide a satisfying counterpoint to the high-key yellows, greens and blues.

He continually pushes the boundaries. Colorwise, some of Resika's paintings feel if they are on the brink of disaster: In The Plant, for example, what is that orangish-blue tree doing in this intensely yellow-green painting? But he pulls it together -- with a little swatch of blue showing through from behind the bright yellow ground. Yes, he pulls it off - just barely, but that's what makes it exciting.

And that, I suppose, is really what this show is about: pushing boundaries - of space, of color, of the depth a single idea and the painter's ability to control it. And yes, Resika pulls it off.


Elizabeth von Stade is a painter who lives in New York.

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