New York

Paula Tavins

55 Mercer Gallery

The recent paintings of Paula Tavins continuously seek structural clarification. Although the compositional organization depends on the use of a rectilinear grid, she feels no obligation toward the structural dictates of this grid, but uses it rather as a framework or referential guide. For example, in Revenge, she began by first penciling on a 2” x 1” modular grid over raw, unstretched canvas. She then arbitrarily brushed on a light, uneven magna wash that tended to dissolve the surface into an undefined illusionistic mass. As if to defend the integrity of the picture plane, she refers again to the grid and, with a diagonal placed through each module, designates the placement of seven evenly spaced 4” x 8” vertical rectangles. She never completed coloring these rectangles, as if impatient with the limitations of her own self-imposed system. In the final stages of the work, she loosely attached small cotton-stuffed bags intermittently over the surface, then cut and notched out a border to reflect the diagonal shapes in the composition.

The grid is used here only as a servicing agent in the pictorial composition—just as it was once used by the Cubists, or, more recently, by Shields, Poons, or Noland. (This is to differentiate its use by many Minimalists, who use the grid as a primary device, such as certain works by Andre, LeWitt, or Agnes Martin.) The problem with compositional balancing is that it is a device that art school only brings to your attention, but never exactly explains. The reason for this is that selecting just what quantity of a certain substance “correctly” balances a composition is an extremely personal decision. The allover, serial, and symmetrical forms originated partially in an attempt to avoid this annoying problem of compositional balancing. Tavins forces herself into dealing with this problem by violating the explicit structural function of the grid, and at the same time insisting that the results ought to look well-balanced pictorially. It is a relatively recent concept that an organizational system would be accepted, presented in its exoskeletal state.

Francis Naumann