New York

Lydia Dona

Tom Cuglianai Gallery

Until recently, Lydia Dona was a restless, painterly archeologist, who moved thought fully but swiftly from one site of Modernist abstraction to another. From 1985 to ’86, she investigated a spatiality that had its contemporary origins in the work of Roberto Matta and Yves Tanguy. In 1987, she began investigating the possibilities of allover composition, and her patterned space took as its departure point the early work of Larry Poons. Dona has changed her work, but this recent change––it is more of a breakthrough––is the most significant one she has made to date. She plays the viscosity of oil paint against the liquidity of acrylic and enamel, foreground against background, densely textured sections of color against sparsely painted areas, layers of paint against a dryly rendered, schematized space. Out of these insistent dialectics, Dona is able to articulate a shifting, destabilized visual realm in which everything contends with, interrupts, and invades everything else. Her nonhierarchical paintings become the sites of a polyvocal discourse which has no fixed end in mind. Rather than achieving a resolution, the discourse remains in a constantly shifting state.

The diagrammatic drawings, derived from mechanical and scientific models, suggest a utilitarian realm of order and efficiency. Placed within adjacent monochromatic rectangles, these linear configurations (the skeletons of machines?) work on both a formal and an expressive level. Dona then subverts these diagrams of order and stability with skeins of flowing paint. It is as if a curtain of different colors had been allowed to run down over the surface of the painting. This is not just another rehash of juxtaposing one sign with another, so as to further empty both of their last traces of meaning. Dona’s flexible compositions contain a wide range of shifts and disjunctures; there is a continual shifting and breaking in the discourse between one kind of sign and another.

The artist has developed her hybrid abstractions out of different kinds of drawing and mark-making. She will change the direction of the paint’s flow, causing it to become a horizontal, as well as vertical, trail. Her palette, consisting of greens, tans, yellows, and browns, evokes factory cafeterias rather than nature. As hybrids, the paintings never settle into a closed system or solution. They do not propose themselves as ideal states, but as constantly changing combinations. Dona’s compositions are open-ended in the best sense of the word. Among other things, they allude to computer viruses and the breakdown of transmission between one code, or set of signs, and another. Their word is one which has simultaneously exploded and imploded. The references shift like kites. Dona establishes a visual realm in which separate and distinct focuses radiate outward, and out of these multiple reference points, meaning emerges.

––John Yau