Critics’ Picks

Ruth Root, Untitled, 2017, fabric, Plexiglas, enamel paint, spray paint, 93 x 56 1/2".

Ruth Root, Untitled, 2017, fabric, Plexiglas, enamel paint, spray paint, 93 x 56 1/2".

Los Angeles

Ruth Root

356 S. Mission Rd.
356 South Mission Road
September 15–November 12, 2017

From a distance, Ruth Root’s shaped paintings appear tight and formal, but up close her hand is loose, almost sloppy. Their surfaces reveal the brush’s starts and stops, where paint pooled in lumpy relief. Alternating bands of color are often done freehand, in wavering lines. The overall impression is similar to that of approaching somebody standing stiffly in a three-piece suit, only to discover he is drunkenly slurring his words, and finding everything he says to be riveting.

Every work in this show is on Plexiglas, with a fabric component attached. Root gives the lie to the old saw that abstraction is disconnected from life by fusing the two. Her forms are geometric and biomorphic, but not quite figurative; they are silhouettes of ideas about painting, space, and our relationship to the world. She designs all the fabrics, creating repeating patterns that include images of her work and Frank Stella’s, slices of pizza, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s face. In one work (all Untitled, 2017), the painted portion is black with horizontal lozenge shapes entering from the left and the right, five on each side. Like patriotic pills, the lozenges are filled with red, white, and blue dots, but they also resemble fingers laid across one’s chest, the fabric above suggesting a cravat.

The artist plotted out this installation, hanging every painting on a floating wall a little wider than each piece, sharpening the figure-ground relationships. As it’s difficult to see more than one or two at a time, the works become sequential in the mind, each morphing into the next in an animated wheel of memory.