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by Elenore Welles

“Color? It’s human blood that circulates in beautiful palpitations.”
--Le Coubusier

(Don O’Melveny Gallery, West Hollywood) The sublime aspects of luminous color have their precedents in a series of art historical movements that evoked the metaphorical and spiritual values of color and design. Starting with Kandinsky’s symphonic paintings, artists correlated color and design with tonal harmonies and the realm of other-worldliness.

Four contemporary artists--two established and two at the onset of their careers--play modernist variations on a series of familiar themes. They relate via chromatic richness and an obvious pleasure in the sensuousness of paint. Merion Estes relates her work to a post-modern tradition of nature-based abstraction. Working since the 1970’s on multi-layered textural paintings on fabric, her exotic blooms, geometry and decorative motifs burst with vitality. She continues to dazzle with rhapsodies of vibrant colors and pulsating forms that maintain a balance between formal aspects, reality-based visions and natural phenomena. Her mixture of printed fabrics, collaged material and faux finishes push decorative elements to the limit. Estes celebrates decorative and Pop-inspired images with a romantic joie de vivre.

The metamorphosis of natural forms found in her biomorphic and botanical designs swim in a sea of amorphous dribbles and gestures that are both accidental and planned. They are interspersed with visions extracted from nature. Anchored by formal elements, vibrating swirls and disks escape gravity and explode into an expanding universe. They summon up the cosmic spaces found in the Orphist paintings of Robert Delaunay and Frantisek Kupka. Considerably more subdued are monochromatic drawings on paper. In her Tailspin series, birds and butterflies hover in Chagall-like visions of poetic innocence.

Merion Estes, “Tailspin 1,” mixed
media on panel, 23.5 x 31”, 2000.

Nancy Evans, "Untitled 2",
a/c, 52 x 72", 2000.

Max Presneill

Bert Herrington, "Crisp E.L.,"
mixed media on canvas
over panel, 70 x 68", 2000.
Nancy Evans’ restrained floral compositions are far removed from the retinal spinning works of Estes. Evans’ work leans more toward the classic problems of pictorial space, with the soft lyricism of internal luminosity. Stylized flowers that are precisely delineated float within the stable confines of geometric backgrounds. An orange and yellow pansy against a green background is about as spinning as you get. Untitled 2 is a pure abstraction, and although more formalized, the work’s subtle flat areas of color and simplified elements bear a strong relation to color-field paintings.

With Max Presneill, we are in the realm of the socio-political. He creates photo-based geometric underpinnings for vibrantly colored paintings. Presneill states, “My work is an attempt to reclaim elements from our consumerist visual culture to reinstate a critical dialogue.” A lofty premise, but while his intent is well enough understood, images remain pictorially elusive. Presneill starts with photographs of advertisements taken from lifestyle magazines and cuts out the figures. He paints in the negative space that has been outlined on canvas and rearranged into colorful abstractions. The form of the figure is always present. Using house paints and acrylics, chromatic contrasts are laid down in sharply defined areas, often achieving a dynamic counterpoint between color and form. The work evokes the Cubist-Futurist style and their view that painting suggests the manner in which the universe and everything in it possesses some inner presence.

Bert Herrington, a recent graduate of Claremont Graduate School, interjects raised shadowy images of cowboys, cattle and trees within a system of flat color squares that seems closely related to the minimalist ideas of De Stijl and the crisp discipline of the “system paintings” of the early 1960s. In Crisp E.L. and Grid: Summered Late tonal sobriety competes with black squares in geometric grids that act as a base for inserted figures.