New York

Leo Rabkin

Marilyn Pearl

This show’s selection of recent mixed media boxes and pastel drawings by the veteran American artist Leo Rabkin revealed a keen sensitivity to palpable things and perceptible forms. Rabkin’s vision is firmly rooted in the plainly visible, tangible, and knowable. Still, there is a freewheeling, whimsical edge to his vision, an expressive effervescence which sets off enough imaginative sparks to ignite and sustain interest.

Based on old cigar and antique boxes and decorated with different geometric patterns (a few belonging to the original boxes, some collaged on, but most painted on the outside covers), Rabkin’s box works are mounted on the wall in relief fashion. With closed lids facing the viewer, they encourage first a formal reading of each object as a measurable, definable entity of certain scale and appearance. Then, however, one’s curiosity sets in, piqued in part by one’s instant recognition of the objects as boxes. These by custom are special receptacles that exist in order to be emptied of their contents. They are also sources of surprise.

Left unclasped on the wall, and usually supplied with a small metal chain to lift the lid with, the boxes invite their viewers to open the front covers and peer inside. Soffit, 1984, for example, has an elegant cylindrical pattern collaged to its lid, but once opened, it reveals an unexpected interior. This luminous scene consists of a rectangular plane suspended at an angle so that it seems to hover in the space, which appears hot pink in the light cast from colored Plexiglas strips in the box’s sides. This light, and the shadows thrown by the enigmatic plane, intensify the lively, dramatic qualities of the dioramalike tableau. Above, inside the cover, a colorful grid composition completes the contents.

Rabkin’s winning ways with color and form are also encountered in the pastels. In Untitled #7, 1984, the tactile properties of color are exploited with evocative success to suggest mood and mystery. Here and elsewhere Rabkin uses a 19th-century spider wheel to create raised or embossed shapes, which he colors to bring out the materiality of the pastel medium while intensifying its coloristic intensity. In some examples—Untitled #7 is one—the addition of other elements, here beads, helps to substantiate the drawing’s impact as image.

Ronny Cohen