San Francisco

Sylvia Lark

Jeremy Stone Gallery

Sylvia Lark’s strongest abstractions spring from a tension between expression and containment. Over the past several years her monoprints have developed into richly evocative images. Frequently, a multiply printed organic shape and a solid background, both in layered clear colors, are the foundation for judicious strokes of pastel or oil stick. The compositions strike a precise balance between form, space, and marks, and often suggest a psychically “centered,” radiant presence emitting sparks of pure energy.

Lark’s first paintings, comprising the bulk of this show, dramatically switch her palette from light-filled hues to darker, hotter ones. Their higher contrast and the overall texture of larger, denser brushstrokes accentuates the emotionality. In most the focus has changed from ethereal atmospheres to emphatic expression. Several of these initial works on canvas lack the nuances of touch and coloration now typical of the prints. Instead, they display fragmented compositions and frenetic rhythms which almost veer out of control. One that successfully teeters on the brink is Jokhang #1, 1983. Its predominantly black surface is energetically scraped away in irregular ellipses and ovoids to reveal blended swaths of red, orange, and blue beneath, which are in turn partially obscured by black overpainting. The effect resembles flickering firelight emerging from darkness, yet that image is inverted, with a black “hole” in the middle surrounded by jewellike torrential strokes and “flames.”

Through greater restraint, Jokhang #4, 1983, further intensifies this tenor of atmospheric mystery. Here the expansive length of glossy black bears sparse lines drawn into it (as if in children’s finger-painting), and thins in a few areas to expose barely perceptible crimson and navy stains suggestive of weeping blood and luminous fog. The painting’s clarified figure/field tension evokes a subtly commanding passion and promotes contemplative scrutiny. It continues allusions, frequent in Lark’s monoprints, to light as an uplifting symbol, and speaks of an attempt to find a stable balance and hope amid pervasive darkness. Its powerful impact demonstrates that Abstract Expressionism can still provide a fertile format for the exploration of deeply felt experience, and that Lark is on her way to finding her own authentic manner of doing so.

Suzaan Boettger