PARTS IN PLAY:
LINDA SCHRANK'S RECENT WORKS
The only constant, or fixed aspect, of Linda Schrank’s recent work is that of being open-ended. Her paintings depict neither discrete pictorial events, nor recognizable motifs nor even a clear geometric orientation, but instead semi-contained universes where all parts are in play. The taxonomy of marks that make up Schrank’s paintings - pourings, poolings, additions and resists – together create a plastic space so suggestive of flux as to be not only fluid but aerial in nature. Even these gestures’ literal stillness, existing in suspended pigment as they do, recalls the frozen instant when a thrown object, before descending, has reached the zenith of its ascent.
Lookout (2014), a straightforwardly spectacular painting, is indicative of the ephemerality that has increasingly shaped Schrank’s work over the past few years. It is perhaps a quality more accurately described as lightness - an untethered dynamism sparked through interactions of space, color and pattern-form. In this recent painting the central composition is based bravely on a single radial burst, moving outwards in what seems like all colors in all directions at one time. Or is it two such burst forms we are seeing – or too many, in fact, to count? Sustained looking reveals active buoyancy throughout, as though the colors and forms that vie for our attention – first yellow, then warm orange and violet and blue, are each propelled by individual motives within a weightless choreography. “Lightness” exists in this work not as superficial attribute but as a structuring principle that keeps the components of the painting in a state of expanded potential.
Schrank’s spacious compositions contribute to one of the real and mysterious strengths of her work, namely its ability to reflect an outward-looking sensibility within the internal logic of abstraction. It is as though there is room, literally and figuratively, in these paintings to incorporate external sources through purely visual means. A powerful series of prints Schrank completed recently, for example, is titled after Calvino’s Il Barone Rampante (The Baron in the Trees); the tale of an unruly child heir who rejects the conventions of earthbound life in favor of taking up residence in the treetops. Without recourse to direct reference, Schrank’s prints succeed in charting a kind of parallel sense-structure of the story, teasing out form from the impressions of a life led within shifting, sap-filled surroundings.
The fourth print of the series initially appears as a frenzy of tangled marks, filled with reverberations of form whose generative shapes are impossible to detect. It takes time before it all coalesces into readable passages. These remain, however, dynamic in the extreme - appearing to loop, stretch and vibrate at an energized rate. The effect can even be disorienting, emphasizing that the content of this work lies partially in the movement depicted: lifting, falling, trembling, resting. The experience recalls both the act of looking upwards and outwards, as one might under a canopy of leaves or stars, or downwards with ever-increasing focus, like a hawk on an evening flight.
Despite the evident physicality involved in the making of Schrank’s work, her mark retains a metaphorical role. Although boldly direct in color and application, her washes, point-marks and layers continually give way to varied interpretations of scale, from cosmic to cellular, inviting myriad projections and imaginings. It is perhaps because Schrank is always leading the viewer’s eye beyond the materiality of the mark that the artist was able to seamlessly incorporate the use of digital manipulation into her prints. The mediation of the computer in Schrank’s case allows for the fluid expansion, collapse and integration of parts which – in their original inception - lend themselves to the elastic digital processes of re-arranging and re-creating.
The artist has written that her work involves “the tension between spontaneity and control”. Indeed, similar contrasting poles of order and disorder, form and formlessness, are ever present in Schrank’s work. As active and diffuse as her paintings might initially appear, they suggest the presence of an underlying organizing principle, as though each piece bears the mark of its own geometry. In some works there are traces of a classical tectonic system, with its stabilizing influence of the vertical and horizontal. More often than not, however, it is the template-force of the curve, the wave or the diagonal that affects the overall dynamic of the work. It is as though the architecture associated with that which is fixed and permanent, of buildings, boxes and rooms, has been eschewed in favor of a system more suited to that which grows, develops and transforms. Buds-to-blossoms, flock and flight patterns and the noisy swarming of bees come to mind as possible organic models evoked in Schrank’s work. These suggest too a possible reading of the areas of evenly-spaced “coordinal” points that appear so often throughout the paintings - not as a nod to the theoretically-laden grid of abstract painting, but as apparitions serving to remind of the order inherent to even the most chaotic-seeming systems.
The open-form structures that predominate in Schrank’s work carry wider implications. In Lunar Black (2014) gestural forms gather loosely within a cycle-shaped pattern of ascension and descent. The black gestures - some inky and graphic, others soft and creeping in powdery shadow - establish a scaffolding through and against which transparent alizarin, orange, and potion-green washes twine and spiral. The principal momentum of the painting takes place centrally and within the perimeters of the support, but it is important to note what takes place towards the edge. Licks and tendrils of black here and there press against the boundary of the composition, and some diaphanous marks drift or seem to fall from the paper altogether. Although there is a clear central subject to this large work, it can never be fully pinned down, or defined in terms of any clear distinction between figure and ground. Schrank’s abstraction is neither an all-over field nor a set-stage of pictorial characters, but something uniquely poised between the two: a complete action taking place within a continuum. Like a melodic theme within a piece of music, or an episode of a story, her work depicts a moment of specificity within a context of wider possibility, intimated to lie beyond the edges of the support.
Color remains a stubbornly mysterious aspect of Schrank’s work. As with the lexicon of shapes that re-occur throughout her paintings, a differing yet distinctive palette repeatedly suggests a clear if not immediately decipherable purpose. It is perhaps useful here to refer to Schrank’s earlier paintings of the 80’s and 90’s. These works present a much denser form of abstraction, an opalescence achieved through transparent layers that vary chromatically throughout, both between layers and within each stroke. These paintings possess a certain gorgeous inscrutability. Their complexity seems linked to a pre-occupation with the “all color” quality of the natural spectrum, and recalls its many earthly vehicles: pearls, shells, scales, feathers, insect wings and quartz. It is as though these paintings serve as a container for a tiny portion of something much larger, in the way a complete prism of energy is contained in a droplet catching the sunlight.
The same instinct to quietly capture the enormity of color is concretized in Fragments of Light 5 (2010), Schrank’s book project based on the poem by Rumi. Through a paradoxically rich austerity, Schrank in Fragments of Light matches color and materials to the sensations and subtle mystical meaning of the text. Its varied surfaces of matte black and shining silver together bring to mind the possibility of the most dazzling light, and a simple transparent red filter evokes void-like depths. Near the heart of the book, where the text resides, are four small disks used as tie-holders – each of tinted mother-of-pearl, which when set against the light shimmer with miniature rainbows.
Schrank’s unabashedly resplendent new works mark a major shift from the layered materiality of the earlier works, but a unique sensibility has been sustained through the transition - if also transformed. Marks are now defined that were once hidden, color and shape identities are set apart in high definition, and a charged negative space runs between and around all parts. If the artist’s painterly process were once akin to releasing the colors latent in a drop of water, it might be said that the model is now one of full immersion, and pure engagement with the larger current-forces that keep everything in motion.