New York

Sylvia Stone

Tibor De Nagy Gallery

Sylvia Stone’s current exhibition, her best so far, synthesizes her flat, large-scaled geometric mural pieces with the much more intensely illusionistic aspect of a preceding period. In the latter, she had contrived, through strong hue contrast, to give an illusion of a continuous, ribbon like surface pleated or folded back upon itself. Her present work, of tinted Plexiglas and acrylic paint, has been taken down from the wall to stand on the floor, like screens. The intensifications and modifications of the illusionist project involve strategies of the following kind.

One large, stable rectangular form is juxtaposed with another, shaped and partly painted to suggest an illusion of volume. The entire structure is supported by a base in Plexiglas of the basic, unpainted tint which extends at right angles from one side of the structure only, thereby establishing a front-back polarity which one at first presumes to be either arbitrary or occasioned by technical exigencies and ultimately to be eliminated. One does, upon second thought, realize that the base, visible through the front surface, serves to qualify the illusion, or to state it as illusion. In Origame, then, the continuation of the base line would help one to identify the right-hand, illusionistically painted and contoured element as being, in fact, continuous with the left one, and like the left one, a flat surface, not a tipped volume, even if the presence of the wall and floor angle, electric outlets and such things glimpsed through the screens did not. (One can, that is, easily imagine this piece placed more effectively.)

Now normally, the conflict of “information” involved should suffice to maintain tension between surface identity and illusion. It is important to note, however, that in Miss Stone’s work the use of acrylic paint to reinforce the illusion of volume involves the creation of a reflective surface in high contrast with the transparency of the merely tinted, stable-shaped surface. The result is that the reflecting surface tends, although drawn so as to suggest or confirm a tilting plane, to extend flat out toward the observer, its aggressive quality heightened by its glitter and reflections. This being so, the painted surface, though in all cases relatively small in area, tends, in its assumption of an incipient autonomy, to function as a freer and more positive shape, thereby calling into question the shape of the other, unpainted, perspective implying contour, now made to appear somewhat arbitrary. The result is, then, not so entirely to create a tension between flatness and illusion as to partly question the nature of the enterprise.

In another piece called Rift, less characteristic of Miss Stone’s general morphology and closer in its two-point perspective to Ron Davis’s pieces of last year, we have a form which projects an illusion of much less volume, but the black-painted edges which establish that volume function with greater efficiency simply because their narrowness reduces the difference between surfaces to a strict minimum.

There is undoubtedly pleasure to be derived in the strong value contrast, in the play of kinds of surface, just as there is pleasure to be derived from the ambiguous luxury and the glow projected by the Plexiglas screen itself. Miss Stone has chosen, however, to work within a framework such that pleasure is ultimately dependent upon the strictness with which the terms of ambiguity are defined. It is insofar as her color—whether that of the tint or of paint—is so intimately identified with her surfaces that the suggestion of sculptural intent takes on such strength; therefore, once that is questioned so much else is questioned. That suggestion cannot be wholly controlled without a more refined treatment of the painted surface, for there is, in Miss Stone’s work and in her very materials, no other mediating factor yet at work—no range, as in Davis’s pieces, of distance between color and surface. It is precisely insofar as she has chosen to work within relatively narrow limits that one feels a further definition would enhance the elegance which has undeniably begun to invest her work.

Annette Michelson