New York

Ellen Wiener

Marilyn Pearl

Ellen Wiener’s collages are marked by an acute sense of compression. The artist seems to choose shapes, patterns, and configurations that connote chaos only to assert her control over them. The mats she uses serve an integral function as cropping devices, making many of Wiener’s complex images look like eclipsed views of infinite space. Wiener maintains a finely tuned balance between frontality and illusion. Certain elements are utterly flat and resemble ornate textile designs; others provoke a sense of deep space.

All of these untitled pieces from 1988 are fresh, precise, and well mannered; they betray a meticulousness of line and formal arrangement. Wiener uses oil paint, gouache, pastel, metal leaf, and torn fragments from her own prints to delineate the specific contours that fluidly dance and interconnect with one another. The works’ adventurousness is held partly in check by their small scale, and once in a while Wiener’s paint handling seems a bit off the mark, looking not entirely resolved. What the artist never forsakes in any of her pieces is clarity. Even in the case of pictures that are too busy or border on the decorous, her intuitive feel for establishing lyrical relationships of shapes is always correct and visually appealing.

The vocabulary of forms was quite varied in this show. Some shapes seemed iconic, relating to universal symbols. The choice of gold leaf as a medium for embellishing a set of four identical semicircular crown shapes in one piece works with a series of radiating lines to create a stylized impression of cosmic turbulence. In this same composition, Wiener inserts her own gestural marks, but they pale in comparison to the brilliant retinal sensations created by the deep blue marble paper and an incisive angular shape made of balsa wood. The fragility of the materials reinforces the personal nature of Wiener’s art.

Two of the best works in this exhibition are similar in emotional tone, color scheme, and forcefulness. Both display an aggressive approach to building a picture. In one, large arabesque shapes of nocturnal blue, touched with subtle highlights, interlock with each other, while smaller black shapes (like mimicking shadows) escape from underneath. The forces of pull and flow are set against the rigid parallel bands of earthen colors. These lines coalesce into a circle, out of which pops a dramatic angular shape of silver leaf. This shape’s position on the surface of the picture plane makes everything else recede rapidly. The companion piece is just as smartly conceived and executed. In the upper left corner, radiating lines of various gray tones recede in space, through a precise latticework of interconnected, veinlike black lines with red borders. Large shafts of mottled blue and black paint shift the focus back up front. Wiener’s art has an inherent complexity to it that never becomes too tricky or burdensome, and she achieves a variety of intriguing effects with a focused lexicon of abstract imagery.

Jude Schwendenwien