New York

Linda Francis and Melissa Meyer

Hal Bromm Gallery and Soho Center for Visual Arts

Arakawa’s emotional palette moves readily from the light of his machinery to the dark of the Fahlstrom obituary. Linda Francis and Melissa Meyer, two painters with work on view, are each dead serious with an intense focus.

Francis’ paintings are a case study of the classic’s encounter with the romantic. The classical element: a grid; the romantic: relaxed lines à la Duchamp’s standard stoppages which contrast the order of the grid with the personality of the gesture.

Her paintings are monochrome: the three on view are teal green, red, and iris blue. Charcoal drawings—studies for the paintings—are shown as well. The drawings are made by erasing the applied charcoal—a subtractive measure. The paintings are compositionally the same as the drawings, but with paint Francis’ gesture is necessarily additive. Reciprocal gestures achieve the same effect: the medium isn’t the message, but the conduit.

There’s a sultriness to Francis’ color: she chooses darkish tones. These are the colors you find in the tropics, not in your atlas. The suggestion of these paintings is that there’s some kinship with map-charting. Spheres on grids: their relation is one that exists in cartography. Consider these paintings maps charting the characteristics of the peaceable kingdom. Calming colors and an easygoing relationship between grid and line could be the flows of currents, weather, continental drift.

There’s little tension in Francis’ work, but this is less a judgment than a description. Push-pull just doesn’t concern her; rapprochement does. There’s no dialectic here to be explored, to hold the mechanism together. The paintings are relaxed, they don’t argue or even have opinions. But they are emotional. And the dominant emotion is the deescalation of tension. It’s the difference between a clock that works with a windup coil and one that’s powered by solar energy: Francis’ paintings are steadily radiant, they never wind down after their release of tension.

This is painting that concentrates on being soothing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not provocative. It has a rawness (and, in fact, is executed on raw canvas) that implies implosion has occurred, that this is the calm after the storm. This subtlety is suggestive: explosion is visible; implosion we can only guess at.

If implosion is the source of energy for Linda Francis, Melissa Meyer’s pulsating canvases are all about explosion: the explosion of unsuppressed emotion, of color on the rampage, of runaway gesture. I’ve heard her say her work is about “getting structure into gesture,” but this is perhaps more applicable to Francis. Any of Meyer’s paintings is crammed with unrestrained gusto. It takes a controlled painter to push the work to the edge bordering uncontrollable emotions.

Two paintings on view in a group show virtually monopolized the room. That’ll Be the Day, and Rock Rock Rockaway Beach, the titles’ tender references to the appropriate rock’n’roll rhythms of Buddy Holly and the Ramones, respectively, have a nervy, upbeat intensity. The vocabulary to describe Meyer’s work must necessarily be culled from AbEx painting, for she works in the tradition of Philip Guston. The syntax for Meyer is the parallel sentence, her work yokes push with pull, chaos with organization, intuition with deduction.

Search is the theme of Meyer’s work. It’s not the kind of search that has a goal in mind, but rather the restless journey of the inquisitive wanderer. These paintings, oil on prepared canvas, are loaded with layered color, scraped and spread as far as it can go. The palette-knife applications of paint have an elasticity, the effect that of stretching the color as far as she can take it.

And it goes pretty far because it’s not absorbed into the canvas, but chooses to conduct its tour on the surface of other color. In scraping the paint across the canvas, Meyer uncovers, recovers, discovers other colors and combinations.

There’s also a collage element to the way she proceeds: the restive quality to her strokes is about experiment and juxtaposition until the felicitous arrangement is unearthed. The terracottas and turquoises of Rock Rock Rockaway Beach are closer to the colors of Aegean beaches than to Rockaway: these are the hues of the perched villages of Grecian isles or of extant paintings from the late antique period. At variance with AbEx explosions—which were not unrelated to tantrums—Meyer’s radiant explosiveness comes with sunscreen, controlling viewer exposure somewhat. It’s not exactly putting structure into gesture, but it does muzzle her effusion—just a little.

Carrie Rickey