New York

George Bireline

Emmerich Gallery

George Bireline’s show at the Emmerich Gallery belongs to that category of contemporary work which seeks, within defined and published critical boundaries, to take up the challenge of forming and projecting an original voice. Bireline’s paintings are all in long rectangular formats, principally horizontal, although the show was strikingly punctuated with big, narrow, vertical pictures. He composes with rectangular bands of matte colors stained precisely into the rough canvas. In the horizontal paintings, the bands and parallel blocks of color produce an illusion of deep color fields framed by architectonic members, as in Translove Airline, where an exquisite green floats off to infinity despite the fact that it is entirely unmodulated.

The vertical paintings have a ladderlike grid of related hues, enclosing contrasting colors of the same intensity, but different hue. Greens and a wonderful salmon predominate in the best of these large portal-like painted structures.

While Bireline’s compositions tend to be on the safe side, when he truly finds himself at home in the large format he uses, he can force a maximum of inventive construction out of his theoretical limits, as in Blue Shelf, where an eccentric ashlar composition in terra-cotta, violet, olive and greens scans both spatially and in terms of the interlocking forms which distinguish it, above other works.

As geometric abstraction will these days, several of Bireline’s canvases suggest that they are cut off sections of some larger, perhaps symmetrical picture. The tall, vertical Hangin’ Hard looks like the right-hand section of a much larger canvas, framed as it is by a boxy, C-shaped brown band supported by a full-width pedestal of violet and green bands.

Bireline’s real gift and corresponding accomplishments center on an extraordinary sensitivity to the optical weight of color; this ability is certainly paramount to the modishly rectangular vocabulary of forms he is using at present, and promises that in the future he may safely opt for any number of other formal constructs without risking the civilized fascination and great coloristic majesty his conventionally composed pictures have at present.

That the artist has imposed a conceptual framework on his strongest suit, color, is of course a necessity if there is to be any coherent oeuvre at all. Just now, however, Bireline seems to be at the fag end of what support and stimulus his rigid forms can offer; the same might be said of his regular choice of formats giving either vertical or horizontal extent, but not both. There is no picture in the show which reveals any discomfiture with these boundaries and imposed schemata yet, however. One hopes that the vogue for ideated serial composition will not pinch and constrict a surpassing color field painter so much that his chromatic genius is deformed.

Dennis Adrian