New York

Edward Epstein

Spectrum Gallery

At the Spectrum Gallery, Edward Epstein’s first New York showing of paintings and prints is a refreshing alternative contrast to the purist rigors and often narrowing terms of the minimalists’ thinking. His luxuriantly colored and painstakingly drawn mandalas offer a multiplicity of visual experiences.

The show includes works from the past two years, done in New York and Spain, and reflects an increasing maturity gained during this period. Source, one of the first round paintings (1965), relies on matte colors and clean edges, which define successive layers of flat planes. However, the central radiating, predominantly red image seems to vibrate at its phosphorescent rim, as dark blue “rays” arc outward behind it. The unbroken, uninflected character of the tondo shape draws the eye inward, toward an often cellular or solar nucleus, from which intricate petal, orb, or flame-like forms are generated. In Sunflower, one of the most austere and mysteriously attractive canvases, the black center disc eclipses a gold corona of pointed petals, which spiral outward through gradations of yellows, russets, and browns, finally blackened at the circumference. A smaller, silk-screened version of the painting is an elegant translation into the print medium. Arcana, also done in Spain, uses the same gradual haloed effect. Here, a wine-red center of splitting cells crackles onto cobalt blue shell-shaped petals which deepen to a midnight obscurity nearing the outer edge. The overall effect is an eerie one—as if one were witnessing the birth of a nebula.

Nacimiento de Una Estrella, like Arcana, is painted in enamel on hoard. With its busy brightness and the earthy gaiety of its yellows, oranges, and reds, it is certainly the most inherently “Spanish” in character; yet it is also perhaps the most vulnerably decorative of the works shown. This seems to be a result of the shiny surfaces and harder edges created by the use of the enamel, offering more resistance to the eye than the absorbent depths obtained with oil on canvas. The prints, with their feathery, radial images, play upon multiple harmonies of color, and are best seen in groups, where each field reflects against, or complements the neighboring hues.

But to describe the formal aspects of this type of painting does not do it much justice. It both requires and elicits a meditative approach, a looking into and beyond the purely visual patterns. As the forms begin to unfold or pulsate, the paintings’ inner dimensions evolve along with the viewer’s perceptions of them. The depth to which one may go in contemplating these works depends, therefore, as much on the dimensions of one’s own mind and its responses, as on those of the paintings. In this sense, the canvases become almost “magical mirrors,” reflecting and absorbing, eluding and responding to the exercise of vision. Yet their most powerful effects seem to reside somewhere between their visual impact and an intellectual apprehension of them.

Since the first round paintings, Epstein has developed more luminous, studied, and subtle, jewel-like effects with color and light. He seems to be making a new departure with the rectangular, more “scenic” or thematic work, Memorial, but it is difficult to say where this tentative step will lead him. One hopes that he will not completely abandon his fruitful researches into the round shape and its implications.

Emily Wasserman