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MARY CORSE

by Roberta Carasso

Note--Because of the nature of Corse's work--all white with very subtle visual effects that are extraordinarily difficult to see in any reproductive medium--no reproductions are included with this article.--Ed.

(Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County) It is no surprise that the white light, Minimalist paintings of Mary Corse have made their way into such museum collections as MOCA and the Guggenheim. But the acquisition that affirms the substance of her art is the one owned by the Getty Museum. Not noted for its collection of contemporary art, the Getty was drawn to the artist’s ethereal virtuosity in which light radiates from within the canvas. Like much in the Getty’s collection, Corse’s art has a classic and timeless aura. She currently exhibits a dozen new canvases that adhere to these qualities.

The uniqueness of Corse’s shimmering paintings is its subject, light. With amazing craftsmanship, Corse integrates microglass (minute triangular prisms) with pearlescent paint on a traditional stretched canvas and develops, in bands of gradations of white, a world of pure aesthetics. Definitive grid configurations and linear striped illusions reflect her quest to convey, in the most uncompromising manner, a multidimensional expansion of shape, color, space, edge, and light.

Corse’s paintings grew out of the ‘60s Light and Space movement’s experimentation with radiant and reflecting surfaces, shadows, and the space that light creates. She also references New York Color Field art, in particular that of Ad Reinhardt. Like Reinhardt, Corse is steeped in Zen philosophy and seeks to convey, by reduction of elements, existence and truth in a comprehensive dimensional format. Reinhardt’s vocabulary was subtle variations of black. Although Corse has been known to work with all black, and even bright primary colors, in this exhibition, Corse uses one coloration, pristine white and shades of white, which demands enormous visual precision.

Corse heightens the plasticity of the monochromatic dynamics by introducing luminosity as a viable element. She manipulates light in both a mysterious and magical way so that light as energy seems to emit from the inner being, the soul of the painting, rather than reflect the outside onto the canvas. Consequently, her unpretentious art is loaded with profundity.

Modern physics, Jungian psychology and Zen, in the area of perception and reality, are major influences. The idea that the viewer creates the reality is integral to her paintings. The evanescence of changing, ephemeral, and solid light is Corse’s attempt at shattering inadequate perceptions of what is real and unreal, and how life is perceived and misperceived. To Corse, painting is a record of the nature of reality and a means to get closer to truth. Her paintings encapsulate the nature of thought and how thought, once solidified, creates a new reality. Thoughts and deeds have meaning and determine life's consequences. Based on a Zen concept of emptiness, Corse regards painting as an act of ridding oneself of negativity and of getting to know oneself.

Here Corse exhibits her smaller, beautiful and captivating jewel-like work. But a mural scaled painting (8 by 20 feet) conveys Corse’s aesthetic best. Engulfed by the canvas and moving in front of it, you are forced, by the unique nature of the luminous painting, to alter the light-producing image and the effect of your visual perception of it. The huge scale of the work creates instantaneously changing visions, unique to each viewer’s experience, which could only be captured by thousands of photographs. Here is the wonder of Corse’s art. She meshes esoteric ideas, amazing craftsmanship, and a sense of naked reality all at once.