Fran Kaufman, 2015
When looking at Linda Schrank’s latest work, one is aware of being grounded despite the layers of grid and marks that appear to form an abstracted aerial landscape, a floating and shifting universe. Never offering an absolute horizon line, each work is open to possibilities, not telling us how to see or understand the world, but shedding light on our presence within it. We gradually become aware that the artist has looked at many disparate worlds and cultures, ingested and synthesized words and music and images, here presenting us with a cohesive view of her own mental (omnivorous) vertigo. The journey, in the larger metaphoric sense, and in the physical creation of each piece by the artist’s hand, encourages the surprise discovery, an ability to swerve into new and unexpected perceptions.
Schrank’s work is filled with a subtle push and pull of opposing tensions, held together by an irregular grid of opaque mostly white dots weaving through space both above and below the surface. They seem to function almost as breath – the pattern is regular and sustained until interrupted by an obstacle, an exclamation, a memory. There is a distinct spatial envelope that provides encounters between air and mark, a color palette that allows both dark and light to cohabit yet hold their own ground. Working with a distilled language of loose grids that may bleed into beaded lines, single dots, and translucent often luminous patches of color, their edges form beautifully drawn lines. These paintings are short visual poems to an instinctive landscape born of rhythm, history and touch. Individual passages are like beloved musical phrases or murmured text, visually translated and very nearly audible in the underpinnings of these complex works.
Her new series has the feel and surface of fresco, a nod to the Renaissance paintings that have been such a seminal part of the artist’s visual influences. These light-filled works are paired with three handmade paper pieces embedded with colored pulp, direct riffs on particular moments in the Legend of the True Cross painting cycle in San Francesco di Arezzo. In Piero #1, the first piece in Schrank’s meditation on the contemporary nature of Piero della Francesca, we focus on the figure-ground interchange, a magnified fragment, a lone eye. This emphasis on simplified shapes and clear color offers a thoughtful contemporary version of the 15th century palette, on the atavistic energy of these timeless works.
Since childhood Schrank has been mesmerized by the work of della Francesca, first finding a “horizon line” in the flow of eyes, single and in pairs, across the length of the fresco; like a path leading through a maze they move you across the expanse of the image and back again. Later she was drawn to the inherent architecture, the unusual figure-ground relationships, a pared down tonal palette of luminous green, red, blue, yellow, the remarkable level of abstraction. As she states, “These works are now part of my DNA.” Other aspects of her unbounded visual vocabulary are drawn from sources as diverse as Chaim Soutine’s vertiginous paintings of Cagnes or the spatial anomalies of Indian Kotah miniatures.
Based in NYC but spending nearly a third of each year in Italy, Schrank is equally influenced by the dual terrains she calls home – the strange lunarscapes of the Crete Senese and lush seductive beauty of the Tuscan earth meld with the intense and relentless tempo of NYC. The lively balance of the multiple oppositional pulls in her visual lexicon find stasis in works like Upraising and Downfalling and Playing Both Parts. All is held together by an emotional intelligence, a formal sense of balance, a resolution of tension through color and mark, emblematic in the seen and implied overlay of grids or nets. There is a poetic relationship to a current theory in astrophysics of dark matter, loosely interpreted here as a mesh of invisible energy that is beyond gravity, holding the universe in position. Not yet seen or measurable, it is a theoretical enigma. Schrank's new work puts me in mind of this theory; there's an invisible force that holds these light-filled worlds together without giving up any of their mystery.