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Françoise Issaly

By J. Bowers | Posted 2/9/2005

Painted in sections on 12-inch squares of wood and displayed with one-inch spaces left between them, Canadian painter Françoise Issaly’s topographical, earth-toned abstracts present prehistoric imagery in postmodern, self-critical packaging. It’s an interesting idea—use a rusty color palette, hastily drawn sketches of leaves and seedpods, and hazy chalklike outlines to evoke primitive cave paintings and fossil remains, then fragment the images to suggest impermanence and stunted, mechanical decay.

In Gallery International’s exhibit of Issaly’s recent work, the best pieces do just that, and achieve a pleasant logic, like a manicured Zen rock garden. Taken all at once, however, Issaly’s numbered series of “Petite Configurations,” “Grande Configurations,” and “Configurations Fractale” offers seven slightly different takes on the same basic images.

The “Configurations” are so similar, in fact, that the same description can apply to all of them: There’s a somewhat soothing quality in the repetition and loose, layered lines of Issaly’s minimalist landscapes, but the hard edges of her wooden surfaces create an unintended tension, drawing the viewer’s eye into the blank gaps of wall that slice through each composition and forcing the work to interact with its environment.

Every “Petite Configuration,” for instance, (No. 7 of the series, pictured) whether rendered in muddy gray-green or ruddy clay, is a taut, well-made confrontation between solid geometry and abstract chaos—but you can only view so many of these before the whole conceit, however clever, seems downright trite.

The remaining works—including “Configuration Fractale II,” which connects four splotchy square panels with (gasp!) a circular one, and “Grande Configuration XXXX,” which places two larger, amoebalike square images side by side—are less successful. These variations on Issaly’s established theme feel like conscious, forced attempts to question the rigidity of the “Petite Configurations,” and ultimately show the artist painting herself into a corner, so to speak.

But Issaly is known for reinventing her approach toward abstraction every few years, and the freshest works featured in the exhibit provide clues to how, exactly, she plans to break away from her recent fascination with primitive imagery and square groups. Three samples from Issaly’s 2005 “Fragment: Ovale” series transfer her naturalistic imagery to standalone oval canvases, replacing the edginess of the “Configurations” with calm, self-contained abstracts. Amorphous blob shapes echo the surfaces’ rounded edges and seem to glow from within, like candled eggs. These pieces are less interesting, conceptually, than the “Configurations,” but are a welcome step toward reinvention. Hopefully Issaly will stumble into a new approach sooner rather than later, because she’s already exhausted this one.

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