alternate routes

mark daniel cohen, 2001


... And the experiment continues, and the art that results is inevitably difficult, for the search for truth is always difficult. It is difficult in all fields that pursue truth, for truth is resistant to disclosure. And thus in art that pursues it seriously, in art that is seriously intent to be something other than an entertainment, there is a certain grit, some tangible quality of the hardness and traction to gain upon an impossible goal. Such quality may be found in any of its aspects, may be in the choice of palette, in the composition, in the handling of the stroke, in the touch laid to the clay or the manner of the striking of the stone. It may be anything, but it will always be there, for it is the requisite spirit of the serious mind, and the requisite means of avoiding the formulaic. Any method of approach with unfortunate easiness transforms into a formula, into a set of instructions for manufacturing rather than forging art, and a certain sprit is needed to keep the direction clear, and the iron hot, and the proceeding true.
      The paintings and prints of Linda Schrank possess such grit. Her abstractions have a precision hardness, a grip on the eye, and a sensation of bearing down upon the object of their inquiry. They have been created and calibrated not for the most superficial pleasures of the image but for the joy of the exploration, for the excitement of the challenge, for the search for the disclosure. And in comparison with her last several very impressive exhibitions, the dual-sited Alternate Routes is a distinct ratcheting up of the pressure of seriousness, an observable stepping up of the precision and efficacy of her means.
      Alternate Routes is a two-part exhibition, mounted at both of the Rosenberg + Kaufman locations. In the SoHo gallery is a display of six paintings, oil on wood and executed in the signature style of the artist, along with two paintings on paper, one done in casein on handmade paper and the other one mixed media. At the new 57th Street location is an exhibition of nine works on paper: a coordinated series of seven etchings, from which the overall exhibition obtains its title, and two paintings in casein on handmade paper. All works date from the last year and this.
      The oil paintings have been executed in the manner that is now recognizably Schrank's own. Working almost entirely in secondary colors and primary colors that have been shifted in value and intensity - her reds are cooled and slip toward magenta; her yellows tend to be darkened and lean into the brown or the green - Schrank applies her paint not with brushes but with personally devised implements, which she calls "combs" and which lay color in wide, concentric, curving paths that intersect each other and create complex moments of interaction and an overall landscape of complicated, curvilinear patterning. In each painting, a line of color, always a color picked up from some small area of the work, meanders its way across the surface.
      The etchings of the Alternate Routes series, which individually share the series and exhibition title and are numbered one through seven, are vibratory overlaid distributions of similarly curved and concentric lines, executed in a series of dominant hues and looking like compositional motifs comparable to those of the paintings but keyed to the nature of their medium. Only the casein paintings on paper seem substantially different, but different only to the initial glance. Each seems an overview of a landscape, landscapes of unusual hues, of unearthly tonality and spectrum, seem from the aerial view. The paintings on paper have been painted first from the back. Schrank permits the color to soak through to the other side, warping the paper and creating heavy ridges and furrows. She then turns the paper over and works what will become the front, developing the rippled surface that appears like a craggy topography of some exceedingly foreign soil. And working its way across the surfaces of the etchings and the paintings on paper is the widely curving single thread of color; the thread that connects every work in this exhibition.
      The precise patterning of the paintings and works on paper are arrived at by impulse, or if one likes, by intuition. Speaking with Schrank, one discovers from her that she proceeds in each work by feeling her way forward. It then follows by a very superficial inference that each work is a record of the progress of that feeling forward, each work is an inscription of the process of its making. But the point of these works is not to be found there. Every painting, every work of visual art, is a record of the process of its making, and such a blatant truth, such a lauding of the obvious, is what attends notice when one cannot think of anything better to discuss. But the value of any experiment is in its results, not in its procedures, and there is rather more to these experiments. There is rather more to Schrank's art.
      What there is, is the engagement of the fundamental components of philosophical inquiry, the essential components of thought and the necessary resultants of the probing and penetration of authentic abstraction, of authentic and serious-minded art. It is the outcome of the grit of Schrank's manner, the necessary resultant of the pressure of her aesthetic attention, and more specifically, of her artistic style.
      The curving lines that are the compositional element of the majority of her works coalesce into interference patterns, the crossings and complicated intersections of radiating wave structures, as if emanating from a multitude of throbbing, vibrational sources and laying out the field of their compounding implications. Her images are, through the virtue of her method, exemplifications of field theory, for the arcing lines are force patterns, trails and, to the senses of the viewer, instigations of moving forces. The expanse of the wood panels and of the paper becomes the model and illustration of the principle of extension under field theory: the plane and the volume that is populated by the components of reality - by rocks and houses and people and cities and planets, by the individual object - is a proposal and creation of an extension of vibration patterns. It is energy that creates matter; forces coagulate to generate but the appearance of the object. This is one proposition of a pair of essential alternatives - mass underlies and creates energy; energy underlies and creates mass - a matched set of ideas that arises repeatedly in science, in philosophy, and in art - in all areas of the most serious thinking. At the level of concentration at which Schrank operates, art is philosophy.
      An affirmation of the thought is carried in the titles of the works. The oil paintings bear titles that make either of two references. The titles of works such as Rumble, 2000 and Merge, 2001 refer to the activities of the vibration patterns that they clearly denote and enact. However, the titles of paintings of similar aspect and composition, such as Bird's-eye, 2000 and Traveler, 2000, make their reference to the landscape, to the congealed extension of literal matter, to the reified world of hard things, the tangible matter that, under the view of one bias, of this bias, results from stable and immaterial structures of pulsating force. The similarly composed Alternate Routes series of etchings suggest the same alignment - routs occur on the tough surface of landscapes. And one work - Alternate Routes, V, 2002 - serves as a confirmation. The intricately complex red structure of line work, whose detailing ranges down through so many levels of scale that it seems virtually fractal, could as easily be seen as a rendition of a landscape as an evocation of a vibration pattern. This work lies right on the line, precisely between the two modes, fundamentally and irretrievably unsettled, exactly ambiguous, and it sharpens the proposition of all these works: that the energy field and the extension of hard matter are the same, that each one is the other.
      It is a fundamental thought, a direct response to an essential question, on that underlies serious thought in all the fields in which it occurs. It is a philosophical notion, but in any area of inquiry, it would only be the beginning of a full thought. A complete proposition requires an application, a pressing of the basic notion onto a specific area of concern. And in art, whether are of serious intent or of the deceiving fantasy of the entertaining, the area of concern is emotional.
      Art begins when the perception of the work of art enters the viewer, when it applies its configurations to the inner senses. In the case of Schrank's works, the vibratory patterns that are the compositional principle and the heart of their propositional nature is an inner vibration. It has the quality of a tremor, and of the energetic, enthusiastic, lifting pressure of life, the feelings of the vivacity. And the works, taken individually and together, possess a progress, in inner development. They constitute a sensuous equation of emotional progress.
      Most particularly in the paintings, for there one finds the code of the reading. It is a Rosetta Stone that must be discovered, for the terminology of deep inquiry is not linguistic buy philosophic, it is not the terminology we devise and employ but the terminology that arises necessarily and spontaneously - or rather, it is not the terms we deliberately adopt but the terms we cannot escape, the terms that we are, at our essence. In Schrank's paintings, it is the hues that are the terms, it is the colors that contribute and indicate the emotional tinges.
      Schrank's palette has a certain quality of astringency. There is something acerbic in her secondary colors of chalky apricot, and almost olive yellow, blood orange, dark violet, a cooled, grayed pink moving into the blue. The interference patterns of the paintings confront and ripple and collide in almost splintery intersections, almost jagged feeling crossings of colors swerving into colors and momentarily shattering into nearly scumbled points of contact, and the tremor of their rolling structures has a bite. Compositions in principally secondary colors are comparable in feel to musical compositions in a minor key. There is something less than obvious about them, something in between the divides, something note entirely comfortable. There is something citric to Schrank's color work, something mildly acidic.
      But the progress leads to another touch, a touch of a different tonality. In every painting, there is an area of pure turquoise, a stretch of a different emotionality just beginning to emerge. Each such space seems almost to be secreted by the painting, seems almost to be arising into the work from some other source, from some source that has not produced the radiating and intersecting waves. Something new. And the tone it adds is like a brightening, like a peaceful sensation entering into the turbulence, like a resolution to a stable but endlessly vigorous turmoil. The turquoise extension, in each case, is not literally the resolution to the composition, but it is the resolution to the point of the composition - a moment of emotional resolve - and it is significant that in every case the turquoise is not a component of the wave patterning. It is always somehow apart, as if stained in or brushed over of laid on once the rest of the painting has dried. It does not interfere with the interference patterns. It is something else.
      The turquoise patches are matched as marks of the emotional progress by the threads of color that snake their way through each of the works, the connecting threads, which move as if charting the course of a river through a rocky terrain viewed from above, viewed from the aerial vantage. The line is in every independent moment. Each weaves a waving scheme that, like the turquoise fields, does not interfere with the rest of the wave structures, and is not interfered with by them. The independent lines are overlays, and are freedoms of motion. They progress unimpeded; they do not intersect with anything else. As much as the turquoise of resolution, these lines are resolves, new actions, new gestures, intrusions that do not intrude upon. And so, the resolution of the point of the compositions arrives in the essential philosophical terminology: as both field and independent linear object, as both indistinct vibratory, tonal extension and hard-edged precision - as both ends of the fundamental pairing, as the philosophy that serious thought can never elude.
      In that, Schrank reaches the one sure accomplishment that art turned to serious intention is intrinsically capable of achieving. She accomplishes the experimental result that is in the nature of the artistic probe: she treats the emotional reality as philosophy, and philosophy as a sensuous enterprise, naturally practiced in works of art. It is not a mere style that she exercises, not merely the formulaic of abstraction, but abstraction in the adventuring spirit of the mode, the spirit that keeps the progress true. Schrank practices abstraction as the real thing.