Critics’ Picks

Leelee Kimmel, Little Screaming Rig, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 43 x 35".

Leelee Kimmel, Little Screaming Rig, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 43 x 35".

New York

Leelee Kimmel

The Journal Gallery
45 White Street
January 18–February 18, 2018

Leelee Kimmel’s paintings aren’t specifically referential, though there are references to be had: from Miró and Masson to Twombly, Basquiat, Jonathan Lasker. And there’s a strange connection to Philip Guston, too—Kimmel’s abstractions have Guston’s nervous line recrudescences; think of the textures of his forlorn shoes. Kimmel deals in a kind of electrocuted biomorphism that’s descended from Surrealism, but the life’s been polluted by the morph: incandescent amoebas, skittering deep-sea/outer-space/inner-voyage paramecia, flagella, the world of Ernst Haeckel pumped up with unreal colors. Even the pastels are harsh, bright.

A sort of Habsburg-chinned specter in Little Screaming Rig (all works cited, 2017), radiant in red against the black ground, veers more toward figuration than most of Kimmel’s paintings, even without benefit of the title. The composition moves in and out of representation, in and out of focus; acrylic paint dribbles luxuriously. Though modest in size compared to several of her other paintings, such as Ice and Soft Spot (very large pieces that feel like late Pollock shot through with Tanguy), it is a standout nonetheless. The method of paint application suggests the confectioner; jets of color mimic frosting. Yet there’s a trace of poison—it’s a nuclear Betty Crocker bake-off.

Kimmel reframes the ongoing question of abstraction as a severely controlled discipline—the art is abstract so it has to be extra tough formally, you know—and the regressive and infantile pleasures in just letting go . . . just. But such regression should never be underestimated; it is a generative and profound force. Kimmel’s paintings traffic in mess and spillage, and there is more than a hint of the nursery room. It’s all very antic and a little bit scary, this loud Kimmel world.