New York

Joyce Kozloff

Using assorted techniques (lithography, collage, painting on canvas, drawing on paper) and assorted materials (silk, paper, paint, crayons, oil markers, colored pencils) Joyce Kozloff puts Islamic and other traditional decorative motifs through their paces. The eloquence of the resulting patterns comes from her instinctive alternation of stimulation and repose, of near confusion and clarity.

The most fascinating thing about pattern-making is that the artist’s mental inner workings are visible. Rhythm and color decisions have to be made within a given framework. Kozloff adds another level to this exposed decision-making by using lithographed sheets of pattern from which she cuts self-contained sections to be reassembled. Like a jigsaw puzzle with identical interlocking pieces, the choices of form are limited but the potential combinations are endless.

Orange and Green Lattice is a paper tapestry of sectioned, cut-out patterned strips which are broadly interwoven. Within the plaited fillets are recurring themes and variations. In this particular piece. the woven sections and the star-shaped intervals are either festooned with textured hatches and dots in shades of gray and metallic blue, or assertively unembellished. Mad Russian Blanket, also a composition of cut-outs, has triangular and ribbon splicings of the decorative units set into vertical queues, creating harmonies and dissonances. Sometimes the patterns on adjoining strips fine up, but more often they fall in and out of sync with each other.

Two of the more traditionally decorative works are Longing, a lithograph cut-out tapestry, and Blue and Gold Lattice, strips of silk printed with an interlocking asterisk pattern. They are closely akin to Islamic pattern art in that they are rational without being mechanical, and spirited without being passionate. Kozloff purposely uses existing decorative vocabularies so that she can both refute and emphasize their construction.

The paintings lack the ease of the cut-out compositions in execution and range. Paint cannot be expected to sustain the crispness and speed of collage. While A Maze succeeds rather well in maintaining the tension of the ground by securing all sections with pattern, Striped Cathedral does not fare as well; it has no decorative repetition in its farmost right segment, which is painted solid orange broken by a flat green windowlike square. This flat span, a sudden intrusion of “Minimalism,” comes through as brave but ultimately inorganic and forced. It makes an interesting attempt, however, to juxtapose Islamic abstraction with that of modernism. But the two do not really mesh, though they start from the same formal values. Modern abstraction cleared the way for a purer and more absolute individual expression; Islamic abstraction paved the way for a very non-individual beauty.

As a manuscript illuminator who borrows from traditional decorative sources, I was dazzled following the works’ themes and variations from source to termination. Joyce Kozloff takes border designs and other motifs with hierarchal positions and disrupts their traditional functions. She meshes unrelated motifs in joyful reveries in the two illuminated hand-bound books titled If I Were a Botanist and If I Were an Astronomer. While grounded in nature and traditional ornament, Kozloff’s works transcend their categories in the true spirit of the decorative.

Judith Lopes Cardozo