Critics’ Picks

Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, 1080512, 2012, watercolor on paper, 14 x 14”.

Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, 1080512, 2012, watercolor on paper, 14 x 14”.


Nicole Phungrasamee Fein

Devin Borden Gallery
3909 Main Street
October 6–November 21, 2012

Departing from her previous neutral and ocherous palette, Nicole Phungrasamee Fein introduces shocks of vibrant color in “Forgotten,” one of the artist’s two solo exhibitions this fall (the other is at Philadelphia’s Gallery Joe). While the atmospheric and monochromatic watercolors on view here range from pink to phosphorescent green, Fein’s process is still as resolute as ever: Each work is the product of a single sitting and the artist’s absolute concentration on her lines. In 1080512, 2012, Fein lays down a series of—adjacent but never overlapping—horizontal powder-blue bands with a one-inch-wide brush; a slight distance below, she uses the same technique, moving the brush left to right, to overlay strokes of dusk-blue watercolor. With gravity forcing excess pigment to the sides of the meniscus, the washes of color darken at the sides, creating the false illusion of inked lines. Fein’s final pass of gray-blue leaves a shadow at the bottom of the composition, a ghostly trace that both echoes the ethereal quality of Agnes Martin’s watercolors and lends a sense of objectness or weight to the image.

Like Martin, Fein is interested in the meditative calm afforded by a serial process. Fein also draws inspiration from the optical plenitude of the natural world. Where Martin found transcendence in the unending horizon line of the desert, Fein, acknowledging her childhood in California, looks to the infinite space engendered by the blurred meeting of sea and sky.

While the prescriptive nature of Fein’s mark-making system may seem rationalized or detached, the drawings are acutely alive. Never precisely square, the fields contract and expand as if they are breathing. Indeed, the colors pulsate and flicker. These works may be subdued and serene, but they are never beaten down. It is this tension—between the predetermined rigor of Fein’s system and the sheer beauty of the outcome—that makes these pieces so fascinating.