George Wardlaw

Stux Gallery

Pluralism and its heirs notwithstanding, art and criticism still reflect an ingrained absolutism. We still like it pure; we want to know if it’s a painting or a sculpture. In a remarkable new body of work George Wardlaw presents an art that eludes these categorizations, reconciling dualisms which are usually perceived as separate—male and female, logic and intuition, matter and spirit. Rejecting the pervasive Western notion that such polarities are mutually exclusive, Wardlaw’s “Doors” instead affirm the abundance and complexity of experience through the fecundity of an integrated vision.

The “Doors” are a brilliant, bastard offspring of Abstract Expressionism and Constructivist sculpture. In the tight space of this gallery they appeared initially as totemic, columnar structures, each composed of upright cylindrical and rectangular planes in massed aggregations. Their unrelenting vertical frontality has an aggressive, phallic presence, recalling monolithic Egyptian sculpture; but this implacability of form is moderated by an outrageously lush painted surface. Wardlaw alternates bands of actively textured, expressionist patterning (occasionally allowing the underlying silvery aluminum to show through) with sleek monochromatic areas. Compression is relieved by seminaturalistic painted elements—a yellow globe, an archway. Particularly effective is the illusory blue specter of Doors II: Spirit Lock, in which an emotive, intuitive sensibility merges with the logos of geometric form.

Despite Wardlaw’s virtual elimination of interior negative space, a paradoxically open quality is achieved through his successful fusion of gestural pigment, suggested form, and actual rigid structure. Forms break up into intricate vertical arcs, blocks, and crevices, further alleviating the intense male symbolism. Wardlaw’s generalized title suggests the birth passage; he was in fact inspired by the idea of resuscitation, described by those who have survived “clinical death” as a rapid journey through a long, narrow tunnel toward a blindingly brilliant light.

Wardlaw draws the eye in and through and around. His painting simultaneously asserts both dimensionality and flatness. A rather violent metamorphosis repeatedly occurs in the passage from a predominantly dark, moody side (browns, blacks, greens, and blues) to one of celebratory reds, pinks, yellows, and white. Broken horizontal bands of pure color or pattern cap the upper and lower planes, alternately pulling the eye around, or halting its path by wittily “framing” interior form.

Wardlaw’s visual language refuses to declare the superiority or separateness of painting or sculpture. Symbolic and metaphysical translations are similarly open-ended; one could posit the life-enhancing quality of upward growth, for example, or the rigidity of imprisonment, or both. Titles such as Doors V: To the Night Sun reflect an ambiguity of expansive bifurcation. Matter and spirit gain equal weight, emerging in equilibrium.

Nancy Stapen