New York

Janis Provisor

Holly Solomon Gallery

Janis Provisor’s new paintings are both the largest and the most iconographically complicated she has made. One of two formats, either a 5 1/2- by 6-foot horizontal or 7- by 2 1/2-foot vertical canvas, and a monochromatic ground are common to all eight. Her palette is stridently up-to-date. It’s lush, acrid, neon- and fluorescent-derived, assuredly chemical, completely “artificial”: pink, turquoise, bright yellow, purple, red. She also uses lots of white and black. The surfaces of the paintings are equally as distinguished. Uniformly built up from edge to edge with modelling paste and gesso, they present a fluid topography of roughly parallel vertical marks—a thoughtful frosting.

The images—in this case vegetation, figures and various abstract shapes—are appended to bare canvas and built up concurrently with the field. Nonetheless, figure and ground are strictly separated, by contrasting colors and by different applications of paste. The physical treatment of each image complements its meaning. The very literal, all-over surface of the paintings equalizes (and therefore negates) any potential significance of the brush or knife marks, neatly side-stepping one of the morasses of the new Expressionism. And in building each part of the surface without reference to a grid, Provisor moves into a drawing style heretofore the sole province of John Torreano and Joe Zucker. (Each has his own duchy.)

Certain objects, typically rounded shapes that protrude from their frontal planes and their edges, are more obviously “attached” to the paintings than others. These “real things” determine the paintings’ space, which is uncommonly tactile, fluid, and to my eyes spherical rather than planar. And this is where Provisor’s work diverges from that of Elizabeth Murray and Louisa Chase, two painters to whom I expect she is most frequently compared.

All three employ an implicitly cloisonné-like method: every form is rendered with inviolable perimeters, and there are no modulations within each color’s boundaries. Provisor’s and Chase’s color is more temperamental, more rowdy, than Murray’s, but both are indebted to her vibrant, high-contrast work of the past eight years. Murray’s style came from an intuitive understanding of the expressive possibilities in Al Held’s elegant and forcefully idiosyncratic constructs. They take shape in her hands in a range of colors and with a touch that recalls, however unconsciously, Hans Hofmann. Chase runs the same style through a more overtly psychological interpretation to a kind of postdisco pictographic conclusion; the results are handsome but suspect in their topicality. Provisor’s work seems more synthetic: if her paintings are analogues, they are about something more than self and identity location.

As the titles of the paintings imply, Provisor is painting landscapes. In each one the coloration of the ground and its physical activity form a mise-en-scène.The players—miniskirted and bell-bottomed modniks and an occasional, tiny, paint-encrusted Michelin man—share the set with oversized plant forms and an array of less literal shapes that punctuate the schema as protozoa, bubbles, wordless speech balloons, tornadoes of thought or feeling.

Of course, this work is vigorously decorative. It exploits many of the rights only recently restored to the orthodoxy of painting, most fundamentally that of abstract and representational images being allowed to be parts of the same puzzle. More saliently, the work proposes an evolution beyond the painfully elementary, Minimalist-based, figure/ground compositions of what is known vernacularly as New Image painting.

Richard Armstrong