New York

Bill Reiss

Dome Gallery

Bill Reis’ paintings are variations using a limited number of elements. They have the deliberate character of formal studies. Reis combines groups of rectilinear canvases with carved wooden elements that often serve as partial borders or frames. The typically monochromatic surfaces are painted deep shades of purple, black, turquoise, green, and rust, with the hues mutating into one another. Reis concentrates as much on texture as on color, from the dry-brush layerings of paint to the waxy, scratched surfaces. His techniques at times result in striking transformations of media; in Facade (all works 1988), paint takes on the greenish color and roughened texture of oxydized copper.

Reis describes his paintings as architectural, and indeed compositions such as Noon Gate appear to be abstractions of buildings or cityscapes. The wood cylinders inserted in many works read as columns, and the decorative borders resemble balcony railings. But the general effect here is of graphic constructions, for there is very little evocation of depth or volume. The brushed, scraped, and textured surfaces tend to flatten out against the picture plane, and Reis’ studied dividing and segmenting of canvases is mainly an exploration of two-dimensional proportional systems. Moreover, Reis’ concerns are those of a painter: works such as Along the Parameter, in which a red line painted across the canvas merges with a red border along the edge, explore the notion of framing. Several smaller watercolors are studies in pictorial narrative. In Ebony Suite Diptych, an tilted rectangle progresses across a larger rectangular area; in the four frames of Ebony Suite # Quadrant, a shadowy doorway opens to reveal a blue sky speckled with tiny rectangles of pink. Reis also appears to be interested in the limits of abstraction and representation, allowing his rectangular forms to suggest buildings and urban settings, his triangles, mountains and pyramids.

Reis’ strength lies in his skills as colorist and composer, in his savvy balancing and measuring of simple elements and fields of color that in less skilled hands could appear simplistic. His disciplined approach is refreshingly rigorous. Reis never quite transcends his self-imposed constraint, letting studied variation yield to surprise. One wishes that he would relinquish a bit of his solemnity, that he would more often open the door of his studio onto a pink-speckled sky.

Lois Nesbitt