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Summer of Same

Seasonal Exhibit Marked by Familiar Names, Fine Work

Matsumi Kanemitsuís sumi-ink painting "12 p.m. Call" evokes both Japanese art and Abstract Expressionism.

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 7/25/2001

Summer '01

C. Grimaldis Gallery through Aug. 25

Artists represented by the same gallery typically exhibit their work individually during most of the year and collectively during a summer group show. Regular visitors to the C. Grimaldis Gallery will recognize the names of the artists and certain pieces from earlier exposure, and maybe wish for some new directions and faces in the gallery's annual summer exhibit.

There is fine work on display, though, and the show's format allows for some interesting groupings that one otherwise wouldn't see. The strongest such linking of one artist to another involves two deceased painters with personal ties to the New York-based Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s, Matsumi Kanemitsu and Elaine de Kooning.

Both artists liked to paint with sumi ink, and their pieces in the Grimaldis exhibit showcase this. Kanemitsu's 1986 sumi-ink-on-paper work "December Night" is dominated by a dark, diagonally thrusting bar that forcefully reminds the viewer of his friend Franz Kline's work. The stark contrast between the black ink and white paper is also very Kline-like. Kanemitsu's work shows other influences as well; an American-born artist of Japanese ancestry, his creations show the mark of the calligraphic brushwork found in Asian art. Another Kanemitsu sumi-ink painting, 1972's "12 p.m. Call," includes a form whose irregular shape, varying degrees of darkness, and adjacent black splashes speak to the fluidity associated with Abstract Expressionist and Japanese painting.

Elaine de Kooning, an artist whose marriage to Willem de Kooning put her at the center of the Ab Ex movement, has two relatively late sumi-ink-on-paper works in the show. "Ascending Wall" and "Pastoral Al-Shaw," both from 1988, reflect her interest in prehistoric cave paintings of such creatures as bison. Sometimes these animals are simply and firmly outlined, but at other times they're ghostly traces against a grayish wash, evoking a cave wall that's akin to a never-cleaned blackboard. Like her husband, de Kooning liked to make figurative imagery abstract and obscure to the point where abstraction and figuration merged.

This interest is shared by other artists in the Grimaldis stable. Grace Hartigan's watercolors "Kimonos" (1999) and "Stripper (After Blaze Starr)" (1990) contain figurative references that are nearly buried beneath all the splashes and drips. Hers is an all-over, activate-everything method. Much sparer is Ed Ruscha's three-color 1998 lithograph "Spattership, State II," in which the indistinct and nearly ghostly central image of an imposing sailing vessel is surrounded by a pale blue border that resembles both sea mist and the splattering effects of the Ab Ex tradition. For a further immersion in water, see Sukey Bryan's 1999 oil painting "Break, Break, Break." It doesn't depict the ocean in a picture-postcard manner, but instead captures the grayish green energy of wave-driven water.

If the above-mentioned works range stylistically from realistic allusions to outright abstraction, other pieces in the show are more directly realistic. Karl Connolly, for instance, has six 4-inch-by-4-inch paintings from a "Depth of Field" series whose modest scale suits their depictions of small slices of landscape. Paintings that show a road curving through rolling hills don't contain a lot of visual information, and their very emptiness is a bit ominous. Other landscapes in the exhibit include Eugene Leake's 1999 oil painting "Sky Painting," in which the sky dominates the composition so completely that the land below is just a narrow strip, and the late Herman Maril's 1973 oil painting "Rocks and Trees," whose approach is built upon simple forms and assertive zones of color.

Sculptors in this show often emphasize contrasts between different materials, as in Costas Varotsos' untitled 1992 wall-hung sculpture in which water-evocative drops of blown glass adhere to rectangular steel plates.

The Grimaldis group show also includes work from Dimitri Hadzi, Jose Manuel Fors, Bernhard Hildebrandt, John Van Alstine, Ellen Burchenal, Annegerd Bunting, Jene Highstein, Raoul Middleman, and the late Keith Martin.

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