by Jody Zellen

"Untitled #2," powered pigment
and acrylic on baltic birch,
23 x 46" diptych, 1997.




"Untitled #3," acrylic on baltic
birch, 23 x 23" diptych, 1997.

(Kiyo Higashi Gallery, West Hollywood) Lies Kraal's latest paintings explore issues of form, shape, color, light, texture and abstraction. Of the five paintings in this exhibition, four are tones of black. Each painting is a diptych--a two panel piece divided in the middle along the central vertical or horizontal axis.

Although at first glance all the untitled works seem similar, upon closer examination their differences become evident. The subtleties in color and texture become the subject of these works. In the largest black painting the left hand panel (23 x 23") is a textured surface--pure pigment applied to the wooden surface below. The right side (also 23 x 23") uses the same color pigment, yet when the pigment is joined with an emulsion (either matte or gloss gel medium) its color and surface changes. Kraal works her surfaces, sanding them and reapplying layers and layers (over 100) of acrylic paint. Her hand is evident, as the surfaces do not have a machine-finished glow. They are labors of love. The final painting, whether matte or gloss coated, is a smooth, brushless surface that is both reflective and translucent simultaneously.

Kraal's black paintings draw you in. They are about variations on a theme and the permutations of an idea. These paintings as Kraal states, "are about doing more with less." Black triggers different emotional states. There is no true black. Kraal compares and contrasts different tones of black, different surfaces of emulsion and the differences between pure pigment and paint. In each of the four black paintings the viewer is made hyper aware of these differences. One black might have a red cast. One texture might be smooth, the other reflective, another opaque. One draws you in. The other casts you out.

Kraal stresses organic qualities in the paintings, and the fact is that they are hand done and labor intensive. It might take her two years to prepare for an exhibition. In past exhibitions the paintings may have been brighter colors or have had an internal grid as part of their structure. For this exhibition Kraal limited her options. The only variations are orientation, a vertical or horizontal division in the work, and the tone and application of the paint. Although she by no means exhausted the possibilities in the exploration of black, she set up a structure through which to examine it.

All this being said, there are five, not four paintings in this new body of work. The fifth painting is red. "Fast Red," according to the jar of pigment that Kraal purchased on a recent trip to India. This is the red that Indian women use to paint the dot on their face as well as to mark sacred objects. Kraal's 'red painting' is a two panel work. Each side is a 23 inch square. One side is pure pigment, a velvet-like surface that begs to be touched. This application of pigment gives the geometry a softness, especially when contrasted to the other side of the work. The soft/hard, smooth/textured dichotomies that Kraal creates in these works are their essence.

As in any good study of the formal properties of painting, the issues of light and color and texture and surface and shape are explored. By limiting her palette, Kraal can pick and choose what specifics she chooses to explore. In these five paintings she not only succeeds in creating beautiful and elegant abstractions, but also provides the viewers with a sensual and lush surface onto which they can project. If the four black paintings represent the void, the red painting more than makes up for the absence.