New York

Johnnie Ross

57 STUX + Haller Gallery

At first glance, Johnnie Ross seems to offer a straight reprise of American color-field painting while maybe asking just a few new questions. But the colorful canvases, with dynamic quadrilateral shapes derived from both cutting into and adding to the basic rectangle, are hardly direct derivations or replays of the formalistic strains of abstract painting that dominated the ’60s and early ’70s. At second glance these paintings appear to defy the kind of data-conscious stocktaking of measurements and limits involving the statements of optical and perceptual relationships that were the special domain of classic color-field painting. Instead, despite their bare-it-all looks and what-you-see-is-what-you-get come-on, Ross’ paintings impress as emphatically lyrical creations dealing in the evocative aspects of abstraction.

Of these paintings, it can confidently be said that the compositions are more than the sum of their parts. As coherent and—let us not forget—emphatically dynamic structures, the paintings carry rich veins of metaphorical potentials waiting to be mined. As objects they don’t just sit on the wall, they appear to spin in place, throwing off delicious sparks of suggestive content.

Closer, 1986, is one of the liveliest in this regard.The painting,which consists of a surface filled almost entirely with strokes of white and surrounded by narrow ridges of black at the edges, is scaled to loom large from wherever viewed—large, and almost producing the sensation of being so close as to be on the inside. But inside what? The startling immediacy of this elemental black-and-white image, given the rhythmic flow and sentient glow of the surface, suggests an emblematic representation of some momentous and universal occurrence, like the process of creation itself by which form emerged miraculously from the void of space.

Ronny Cohen