New York

Cynthia Gallagher

Grace Borgenicht Gallery

This exhibition of five works from 1981 revealed a concentrated, constructively specific pictorial energy which expresses a thoroughly contemporary personal vision in active dialogue with the important Modernist tradition of “painterly” painting. It was an exhilarating display.

Greased Hip is typical of the approach and the methods. Like the other works here, it employs the risk-laden additive and subtractive process that Cynthia Gallagher introduced in 1980; she starts with a rectangular sheet of paper which she cuts into and adds to as she paints it. The result is a painting whose basic elements (structure, surface, image, edge) are in distinct but inseparable relationship to each other. The qualities of the materials—acrylic pigments, gels, modeling paste, the shaped-paper support—emerge clearly, and the paintings as a whole are more direct, push further toward the formal and emotional limits, than Gallagher’s earlier work. The 1980 paintings, for example, have thinner surfaces, and image and edges tend to be at odds with each other; images are centralized, structures are symmetrical, but each seems to gently undermine the other. These more recent works have thicker, more luscious textural surfaces and asymmetrical structures, and image and edges echo and make reference to each other. Colors clash, lines run, and there are simultaneously greater senses of control and of freedom.

The image, shape, and structure of Greased Hip, for example, are in no way predictable, from its buoyant combination of jagged, curved, and sharp edges to the skein of blazing yellow, black, and purple strokes, pink dots, and red, blue, and green slashes which all compete hue by hue, mark by mark for attention in an assertive surface. Gallagher’s color recalls Henri Matisse’s work; she emphasizes the building of painting from layers of pigment, the presentation of line and plane in terms of colored contour and surface, and color relationships that simultaneously work together while working against each other. But there is a very contemporary, very American edge to Greased Hip, Baby Cakes, and The Banana Dancer Poses for a Cockroach (my nomination for best title of the season). These paintings concern themselves with both abstract and figurative qualities, the two being symbiotically related here as in the late work of Philip Guston; Gallagher’s “I’ll do it my way” stance gets to the heart of what painting and the pictorial experience are about.

Ronny H. Cohen