“The Irascible Muse: A Coming of Age,” at Bill Lowe Gallery through December, takes its name from a 1951 Life magazine article on the leaders of the New York School, which dubbed the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism “the Irascibles.” Although the 20 students at the Fine Arts Workshop whose work makes up this exhibition are diverse in age and place of origin, they share a passionate engagement with materials and the past, in particular the examples of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and their fellow Irascibles.
Michael David, the atelier’s director, says the group’s “radical sincerity” helps them avoid the affectation and mannerism that art critic Clement Greenberg once dismissed as “the Tenth Street touch” of second-generation Abstract Expressionist painters. These artists also bear the influence of their instructor, whose work is in the show, especially in their use of encaustic.
Barbara Brenner creates swirling, rippling clouds of white and yellow by pouring molten wax onto a wooden support such as birch. Her poured fields of color recall Rothko, Newman or Morris Louis, but her delicate, billowing vapors find a tranquility quite their own. (Brenner’s ”Determination With Detours” is below.)
Carolyn Ann Moore’s mixed-media abstractions, which she calls “Fractals,” are thicker, gooier and more tactile. Her swirling, gestural strokes have the energy and intensity of Pollock, but the subtle repetitions of gestures and shapes evoke order and gentleness, too.
The large-scale oil paintings of Constanza Hurtado perform a different balancing act. Her almost cartoon-like renderings of giant toy pigs (above) and raccoons floating against fragmented, painterly color fields push abstraction and representation together in a way that is both playful and spellbinding. Hurtado’s play with scale and eerie fragmentation of these toy animals evokes the long-lost memories of childhood.
The photo-encaustic work of Jared Martin and Penny Treese engages the past as well. Martin, an actor who has spent considerable time in China, brings back from his travels photographs and other materials, which he then manipulates through Photoshop. Overlaying the resulting word-images with encaustic, pictures such as “Red Army Girl” (below) seem to have fallen out of some imaginary archive, evoking a mysterious past.
Treese distresses photographs of nudes with coffee, tea, wine, water and salt. Tarnished and worn beyond legibility, these photos now convey not the beauty of the model but of time and decay itself.
The large umber, burnt orange and coffee-colored works by Egyptian-born Mohamed Elganoby look ancient. Created with Egyptian spices, which the artist associates with Egyptian women’s role in memory and ritual, and containing Arabic words and phrases such as “patience is beautiful,” these works ruminate on the role of ceremony and tradition in the face of cataclysmic change.
Laura Rubio’s sculptures, of iced alabaster, obsidian and polymer, punctuate the exhibit with work that looks at once futuristic and primordial.
The Fine Arts Workshop aesthetic, David says, is “based on the love of process and pleasure of the sensuality of materials.” That love and sensuality are palpable in “The Irascible Muse.”