New York

Nell Blaine

Fischbach Gallery

Nell Blaine’s recent still lifes and landscapes come at you like some enchanting refrain. They reverberate as if with the theme of a paean in praise of painting, proposing a harmony between art and life. What has enabled Blaine to achieve this in her oils and watercolors is the very personal path she has navigated between two of the major factions of 20th-century art. Blaine studied with Hans Hofmann in the mid ’40s, was fascinated by Piet Mondrian, and was a member of the collective American Abstract Artists. By the late ’50s, however, she turned toward the world of appearances with a fresh openness. This change in direction was reinforced, she recalled, by her contact with the French painter Jean Hélion, who made a similar journey through abstraction and back to representation.

Blaine has applied the lessons of abstraction to build a style of realism notable for its intensity. She brings together pure and engaged applications of color, line, and plane. For example, Yellow Table, Tulips and Grapefruit, 1986–90, reveals the fundamental role color-saturation plays in setting the overall formal as well as emotive tone. The vivid hues of yellow, green, red, pink, and blue are further keyed up by white contours and highlights. While these serve to articulate the objects, they also endow the surface of the paintings with a certain rush of energy conveying the sensation of light flooding through a window.

In the still-life oils, line functions as edge, rhythmically delineating the contours of forms. These animated lines situate the forms in dynamic planar structures rich with suggested shifts of weight and volume in such paintings as Card, Cone and Flowers, 1990, and Carolyn’s Bouquet in Italian Pitcher, 1989.

Blaine’s peerless tactile control is particularly striking in the watercolors. Her combination of wet and dry watercolor and pastel imbue her images with a sensate vitality. River Sunset, February Snow, 1990, a view from the window of Blaine’s New York apartment overlooking Riverside Drive and the Hudson River, is an example of this fluent watercolor technique. In the picturesque scene Fog Coming In, 1990, the degree to which Blaine turns the abstract properties of watercolor—its flow and transparency—into vehicles for reproducing natural phenomena is simply breathtaking.

Ronny Cohen