New York

Judy Rifka

Braathen-Gallozzi Contemporary Art

Eclecticism—not to be confused with this year’s fashion—informs Judy Rifka’s painting from the series, “80 Views of West Broadway.” Rifka doesn’t rehash old points, though her approach shows a careful consideration of color and form. The catch is that the work appears very contemporary, since its “accessibility” carries a distinctly New Wave sensibility.

These seven paintings are of a limited palette. On grey backgrounds, Rifka arranges, contrasts and composes silhouettes, shapes, and reverse silhouettes of other shades of flat acrylic grey, white, red, yellow, orange and black. The complex is simplified by a central composition; each collage revolves around the suggestion of an aerial view of a street corner, represented by lines converging from two perpendicular sides of the picture plane. In each painting, this concentrated collage of forms (many of which are in bas-relief) tumbles out of or cascades back into its corner boundary.

From a distance, this looks like remarkably skilled abstraction, though up close there is a lot of representational activity in the layered, textural surfaces. Shapes begin to read as silhouettes of people and things, parts of Rifka’s visual shorthand. A headless man scurries in multiple directions on and off the curb in one painting; a reverse silhouette of a palette appears, disappears, reappears, again and again. Television and video screens are silhouetted in miniature, while words like “Eyeburn” and “Impact” in press type peek through the surface coatings. A frenzied Mickey Mouse, eyes bleeping red as he exits the frame, reminds one of Pop imagery, only Rifka’s cartoons do not aim to be statements in themselves (as do Lichtenstein cartoon-paintings); their meaning is hard to figure.

Mickey Mouse, the palette, the screen, the crowded corner—it all flashes by in a quiver of tension, an immediate and evocative, but finally abstract vibration. West Broadway is seen from the vantage point of awareness of multiplicity and productivity (Rifka is also a film and videomaker and has done special issues for ART-RITE); its upbeat tenor, as translated into paint, has the immediacy and self-containment of Abstract Expressionism.

What makes these paintings odd is that the representation is distracting, but not that important. Painting is not caricatured, as the imagery might indicate; it is taken quite seriously. Though there is an interesting tension between the Pop silliness of the cartoon and the accomplishment of the handling, it obfuscates more than it intrigues. The New Wave guise isn’t really what makes the work new. It leaves one wondering about what a painter with Rifka’s ability might do without the Mickey Mouse.

Joan Casademont