New York

Peggy Cyphers

M-13 Gallery

One mark of artistic vision is the ability to create a pictorial world in which everything looks distinctive and nothing appears contrived. This is a mark difficult to attain, but it has been hit, and right on target, in the recent work of Peggy Cyphers. This young New York abstract painter seeks that critical edge where form emerges with feeling, space suggests situation, and image turns into idea. The means she uses are both visual and conceptual. The energetic material qualities of Cyphers’ pictures make them resound as physical and perceptible things, and in the process liberate the paintings’ psychic potential as magical objects. A multiple-image format organizes the viewing experience. concentrating attention on, for example, the placements involved in the compartmentalized compositions until what is seen perceptually comes to life emotively. The titles also encourage an active, curious response.

Annunciation, 1984, is a telling example of the methods underlying Cypher’s expansive approach to abstraction and demonstrates how she personalizes a basically straightforward vocabulary of jagged, curved, straight, and eccentrically rounded configurations. The painting consists of two rectangular sections. The upper part is executed in oil on mylar mounted on Plexiglas while the smaller, bottom section is in enamel and oil paint on tar paper. Two forms are repeated in each panel: a gray and black V shape tilted slightly to the right, part of its interior filled in with a gently sloping gray mass; and a white shape, subtly tinted with yellow and red streaks and resembling a bent-over floral stem.

In the upper section these two forms appear to face each other, the V leaning forward while the white shape recedes. The setting is one of irregular colored planes and repetitive patterns. At first glance the panel looks formal, with its linear rhythmical relationships integrating its corners, and its balancing of the weight and intensity of neighboring areas of color. But then one considers the luminous qualities of the space, it becomes more situational in impact, and we begin to see the two main forms as gesturally charged shapes and finally as characters imbued with connotations of sentience and even symbolism. If we take the title as a clue, the space impresses as an abstract version of the kind of quasi indoor and outdoor setting found in late Italian Gothic and early Renaissance Annunciation scenes. Is the gray V the angel and the white form the Virgin? One wants to say yes. But the forms return to more universal and suggestive levels of possible meaning in the more textural, more spare context of the lower section. Here the white form has moved to the left side and the gray V has moved to the right; they now seem to face away from each other, but neither has lost any vitality. Perhaps they have become emblems of ecstatic joy and deep sensations associated with creative force. Still, in true ’80s fashion, the ultimate interpretation remains with the individual viewer.

Ronny Cohen