New York

Yvonne Jacquette

Brooke Alexander

Yvonne Jacquette is the kind of realist who, as Constable said of Ruysdael, communicates an understanding of what she paints. Painting everyday life as seen from above, she follows realism’s way of intensifying the seemingly casual visual perception so that its deeper necessity stands revealed. Her understanding admits the tangled nature of her subject: a separate view on the world every time, within reach of melancholy but spared the more topical forms of fuss. She has made the luxurious airborne overview her specialty without dramatizing its alien’s-eye peculiarity. Architecture, streets, traffic, topography, and—where the view is telescoped—people on the go are distinguished first for themselves, each in character rather than serving an abstract conception about how things do or don’t fit. Thus the larger abstraction—the surface-wide image as a whole—emanates from the pressures of vivid detail.

Jacquette’s new pictures are mostly New York cityscapes. Taken at oblique angles from airplanes and the upper stories of commercial buildings, they extend an unconventionally open attitude toward managed, albeit intractable urban space. They tell of city life in a city-dweller’s terms—spectral, bludgeoned, wobbly or dour, unpredictably entranced but ever watchful and a bit hunched. Three large triptychs, each an array of discrete views, focus on local luminosities. There are new elements of power in large right-angled shapes commanding corners of the frame edge and keyed-up hot colors for synaptic traffic tides. A titanic planar splurge of blue neon glowers above street level where dusky figures strut solitary or by twos, oblivious. Each neighborhood suggests a banner topic heading: the polymorphous nocturnal reverie of Times Square Triptych II, 1986–87—electric signs for food, drink, and stereo equipment angling around “Porno Tramp” and “Hot Erotic Interlude” marquees (all of it lapped up by the squiddish white traceries of headlight beams); a quintessential, cloud-smudged “night burn” in Triboro Triptych at Night II, 1987–88, with busy thoroughfares like lava flows searing the groundplan, and demonic smoulderings in the vortices of cloverleafs. Then, in the convex, enpaneled scenes (progressively higher and pulled back) of Reflected Facade (Whitehall Street) II, 1987, a daytime lower Manhattan lightens up, tumbled in harbor breezes, and the climate dominates like drapery. An exact euphoria: how steel and mirror-glass agree with air and water on mutual jounce-and-ripple effects. And a paradox: tonal attentions to miniscule detail (grains in an orange office desk echoing corrosions on the Governor’s Island ferry’s hull) allow that nothing’s peripheral to the picture’s overall projectile punch. The gridded surface is the whole point of focus, like a screen.

At their further removes, Jacquette’s rural views (in this show, some pastels of Texas and the Midwest) show the cellular patterns set out where nature and management comingle: a sawtoothed woods, a porous quilt of plowed fields, and, cutting across both, a pair of dusty roads. All such material life has its human implications, to which the pictures bear witness. But these images are primarily clear about seeing. Each one allows for seeing more from edge to edge than the eye could ordinarily hold. The intensification of optical face value derives from a double insistence: complex notation adjusted to meet painting’s objective order of space and light. Jacquette’s repeating streaks and stripplings of color indicate shifts of awareness as much as the diverse motions within an image’s fixed imaginary air and bulk. For every flickering intricacy, there is a breath, an interval intelligently applied. This is pictorial intelligence keeping pace with a generally heightened mind-set.

Bill Berkson