Washington, D.C.

Traute Ishida

Henri Gallery

While this group of nine acrylic paintings, all from 1988, continue ideas from Traute Ishida’s earlier work, they also mark an important new stage in her development. Ishida forgoes the use of added materials and recognizable imagery in favor of a purer abstraction. In the past, she relied upon found fabrics as the structural and conceptual basis of much of her work. In Sun Catches, 1982, she used a crocheted fabric as her canvas. The compositional structure and thematic details of the work were dictated by the crocheted design itself. With Don’t Kill The Bird, 1985, Ishida exploited the floral designs of a piece of needlepoint, using these both compositionally and thematically as a counterpoint to abstract organic shapes. Even Amazing Grace, 1985, made without found materials, has as its imagery painterly organic forms interlaced with rectangular panels of floral designs imitating fabric patterns.

In these new paintings, Ishida has constructed dense compositional fields of abstract shapes related to those of her earlier compositions, but arranged in distinct foreground and background planes. In so doing, she has freed her work of any overt and nostalgic references to domesticity. In Evergreen, twisted and curved shapes in rich greens and golds are laid over others done in faded blues and rose, suggesting an atmospheric perspective and layered space. Echoing leaves and foliage against a summer sky, this pattern of floating shapes is repeated and varied throughout the paintings, establishing a progression of tonal values and hues that reflects seasonal changes. In Cool Moon, a nocturnal palette of silvery blues is highlighted by touches of gold and mauve that suggest late autumn; in Still Waters Run Deep, the palette reflects the silvery whites and blues of winter. Compositionally, the paintings become progressively more open, paralleling the increasingly barren landscape of winter.

However, though the treatment of light and color in these works is clearly rooted in direct observation of nature, there is less of an attempt to capture nature’s physical appearance. Instead, the twisted and curved shapes that Ishida uses are geometricized into precisely and crisply painted two-dimensional forms, many of which hover in front of the narrow cubist space of the picture plane. Generally bounded within carefully balanced compositions, these forms are smoothly modeled, giving a mechanical uniformity to their surfaces. In condensing and synthesizing natural forms into vibrant, energized patterns, Ishida’s paintings reduce nature to signs that are increasingly removed from actual experience. Because these paintings are so stylish, however, the sensitive natural light that still pervades them is something of an anomaly, in contradiction to the synthetic forms it reveals. This natural light quietly disrupts formalized patterns of perception by placing renewed meaning on directly experienced reality through seasonal changes in light. In these paintings, natural light lingers as a residue of times past, a reminder, perhaps, of a time in which nature was a more integral aspect of human life.

Howard Risatti