Return to Articles


April 19 - May 31, 2008 at Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica

by Mat Gleason

Geometric abstraction is far from en vogue these days, so much so that what was once the art world’s mainstream is again radical in art world echelons. Ironically, geometric abstraction has maintained that position among the middle class, whose sensibilities it both offends and up-ends, since its inception a century ago.

The work of painters Gary Edward Blum and Barbara Kerwin share similarities and will complement each other. Both painters commit to the experiential and meditative nature of art without overt content. For years Barbara Kerwin has been a maverick manufacturer of the most sensuous, skin-like abstract paintings in Los Angeles. But instead of falling into a touchy-feely trap, Kerwin posits her textures in rigid geometric patterns. The effect is a soothing, cool humanism--rare in this genre still dominated by the Soviet-like sensibilities of Kasmir Malevich.

In her latest work, geometry is used to reflect on the centrifugal. The logical patterning of large-to-small takes the viewer from the edges of the piece into its center, where a darker section of the composition suggests destinations that are absolute, yet safe. Structurally echoing Mondrian through the filters of the post-modern, these pleasant paintings challenge us to mediate on the fact that we may have already arrived at our goal. A cynic might say, “Maybe this is as good as it gets,” while an optimistic Kerwin seems, in this work, to promise that we will remain happy since we so enjoyed our ride.

Barbara Kerwin, "Window VII," 2008,
encaustic, oil on panel, 30 x 30".

Barbara Kerwin, "Window III," 2008,
encaustic, oil on panel, 30 x 30".

Barbara Kerwin, "Window IX," 2008,
encaustic, oil on panel, 30 x 30".

Gary Edward Blum
, "Tuolumne (Morning),"
2008, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 72".

Gary Edward Blum
, "Escamilla,"
2008, acrylic on canvas, 33 x 28".

Gary Edward Blum
, "Time Freezes,"
2008, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30".
If Kerwin manages to find the lighter side of rigidity, Gary Edward Blum implodes the pretensions to perfection inherent in the geometric. He does this without losing the forms that imply structure and embody simplicity. The approach is an unfinished, unhurried approximation of where the picture may be going, complete with paint swatches meant to match various foreground and background shades. But the work is very much finished, a complete narrative of a meditative process that is fearless in that is leaves on display much of what an artist’s picture went through just to be with you here in the gallery.

Blum turns the conventions of abstraction inside out. He avoids cloying, cute colors in favor of beiges and creams that imply space. He abandons the rigid, but offers little evidence of the artist’s hand as a god-like gesture of certain will. The paintings seem open to so much possibility, and yet they assert a rare aesthetic position: concretizing process without resorting to pattern. The artist embraces process as an artist’s narrative. To make the passage of time spent painting the very subject of the painting is bold when every cliché of the last century is forgotten, or at least untried.

These two artists share a sympathy in wanting the simple, radical gesture of inclusion without the content of agenda to be art. Their work complements each other without treading on nuanced yet definite territory that each artist stakes out. Rigorous and satisfying, yet experimental, idiosyncratic and unique, these artists make grand pushes into abstraction’s great undiscovered country.