New York

Rande Barke

E. M. Donahue Gallery

The colorful, organic abstractions of Rande Barke resemble combinations of cloud formations, cancerous spots, and spines. Barke sets rigid boundaries to compress and contain his deep atmospheric forms. The works demonstrate a recurring conflict between intuitive gutsiness and self-conscious finesse. They evoke deep, cloudy atmospheres in which light fights to emerge from haziness. The paintings are usually restrained in tone and highly decorative.

Barke sometimes lets the prettiness of his colors detract from a work’s overall impact. He is most convincing when he works on a large scale; then his paintings are less tentative and fussy. On these long, narrow canvases amorphous shapes billow in an imaginary breeze, infusing the work with a much-needed vitality. In one such piece (all works Untitled, 1988), the predominantly yellow canvas is surrounded by a thin, straight band of lighter yellow, which runs around the perimeter of the picture. The surface shows a refreshing fluidity, covered as it is with variously sized splotches of color: marks of luminescent lemon-yellow, traces of flesh tone, and resonant smears of vivid lavender. The central shape looks like an abstracted cocoon that is slowly evolving out of the mire. As the shape rises upward, it dissolves into a washy white mist. The mood of the piece is held in a disturbing state of limbo.

In another of the more impressive works, a form resembling a rib cage fills the lower half of the composition. The bluish cast becomes more intense toward the bottom before evaporating in a blur of brownish purple and brick-red tones. At the top of the piece, spots of brilliant white punctuate the mass of light blue and purple. This atmosphere would constitute a perfectly absorbing field of color if not for the appearance of melon-orange color in the upper-left-hand corner. Burke often puts too many conflicting colors into a picture, which ultimately detracts from the work reaching a singular emotional pitch. When this is the case, he falls back on the creation of mottled, merely decorative abstract surfaces.

Jude Schwendenden