Natalie Alper

The eight paintings that Natalie Alper showed here all begin with pencil marks—scribbled and wavy lines that pay subtle and poetic homage to Cy Twombly. These marks are then overlaid with turbulent strokes of rich acrylic paint. Black and white lines weave freely through pearlescent passages of color, creating a complex Piranesian spatial tension and illusion of depth. By combining a metallic color palette with earth tones, Alper contrasts an industrial world with a more elemental one.

The artist’s paintings connote the flow of water and, like the deluge drawings by Da Vinci that inspired them, they portray the emotional and abstract forces of nature. In Quicksilver Ways, 1988, she creates a dark crescendo of energy with a palette consisting largely of grays and blacks. A sense of cosmic order is implied through the skeletal black and white graffiti that forms a diagonal grid for the chaotic painterly swags. Then, as if cut loose from its grid, the graffiti weaves in and out of the painted surfaces, forming its own route and revealing the painting’s ground.

For Orpheus, 1989, is a huge work of spiraling energies that move at different velocities. Diagonals and spirals rendered in pencil pierce through thick gestures of autumnal color, and diluted drips and stains fall fanlike from the chaotic vortex. The mutability of form and energy is a constant thematic thread and the pencil marks and configurations conjure mythic events. Alper’s painted canvases combine turbulence and unpredictability with a sense of controlled accident.

The artist’s mixed-media drawings (six of which were shown here) exist as a wellspring for the larger paintings, and are decidedly elegant in form. August #9, 1988, consists of steadily intensifying marks, which ascend into swirls of energy and shine with a Byzantine quality. The monochrome Master Drawing #13, 1988, displays graphite swirls and trajectories of powdered pigment and acrylic overlaid with thin reedlike whiplash markings. The iridescent light ground provides an airy respite from the paintings’ maelstroms of gray and black. Here, Alper creates an advanced graffiti-language of markings and vortices that provides a key to reading her more mythic, large-scale paintings.

—Francine A . Koslow