New York

Pat Adams

Zabriskie Gallery

Pat Adams’s oils and small gouaches at the Zabriskie Gallery please without challenging, and subdue by tasteful consonance, rather than jolt the eye with a bright blast of color. The sixteen gouaches are detailed Schwitters-like visions from which the oils seem to have been distilled and enlarged. They usually contain diagonal bands of wood-grainy or flecked textures played off against swatches which suggest textile samples and fabric designs. Many of these tiny studies are characteristic of Adams’s reserve and spareness, despite their decorative fillip. Others are filled with surprisingly rich tactile contrasts, even within a narrow range of color value. Surface to Occupy pits a flat mahogany area against a brush-stroked expanse of brownish-orange, the two divided by a deep pink stripe. These are works to savor slowly, and in small parts, or else one misses the intimate, informal miniaturism which is their main appeal.

In the oils, Miss Adams manages quite a variety within the fairly limited and deliberate workings of her sensibility. Working only roughly in the sense of “series,” she uses two basic means for structuring her canvases: either by linear motifs (wavy bands, scallops, diagonal parallels) dividing a saturated two, three, or four color field; or by converging and contrasting textured zones (mottled pastel areas ployed against deeper toned solid matte surfaces). This makes the paintings somewhat predictable, but they are not, on the other hand, merely simple-minded. Unlike Kenneth Noland’s recent stripe paintings, for instance, where the collection of brilliant bands forces a choice between seeing them as awning fabric and mattress ticking or purely as painting about the illusions and optical effects of color, Adams’s works seem to remain in some nether realm between two such possibilities. However, it is clear that their aspirations are not as extreme or charged as are Noland’s. One must take them within their own quietly thoughtful context, which centers around slight permutations, rather than aiming for chromatic “dazzle.” The painting Consent is quite typical of the quality of the colors used in most of her paintings—it is vaguely sensuous, and far from plush. The canvas is vertically sectioned into swaying thirds, in a toasty orange, autumnal cerise, and soft peach-brown. Between these supple shafts are bands of olive, or teal blue/red/ yellow. Combinations in other works include pairs like forest green and plum lavender, flesh-tan and pastel yellow, or turquoise scalloped with lipstick red.

Some of the paintings take on residual references to landscapes—celestial or earthly—with their silhouettes that ripple into “peaks,” “coastlines” or “horizons.” Others suggest perhaps the hesitant vista of a dream. The miniscule dots (and sometimes even the carefully snaking bands) which can be accepted as the informing details of the gouaches, become anecdotal and fussy when used in the enlarged oils, where they don’t sit well at all. If a deep blue-black arcing field suggests the halations of a midnight sky, why make the “stars” explicit, when the color alone can convey this more elusively? These points are not offensive, but neither are they necessary to the rest of the painting and design.

Emily Wasserman