New York

Kathy Muehlemann

Pamela Auchincloss

Many of Kathy Muehlemann’s abstract paintings from the past half decade are animated by a tension between diminutive scale and an allover deployment of images. This tension is further echoed by the images that are geometric and referential at the same time; one image simultaneously suggests a glowing planetary orb and an ellipse, for example. The paintings—many are approximately the size of a typical hardcover book—convey an intimacy (they are meant to be seen up close), while the allover fields evoke an expansiveness that exceeds the scope of our field of vision. In maintaining this tension, Muehlemann proposes a way of seeing an abstract painting, not so much as a discrete object isolated from the world, but rather as a field of vision in which light functions as a palpable metaphor for the personal and the unknowable. Up close, the color in her paintings reads as both light and paint, while the painterly, compositional fields hint at what lies outside the frame.

In her most recent exhibition, which was titled “Altogether elsewhere,” after a poem by W. H. Auden, Muehlemann has continued to pursue painting as both a receiver and a generator of light, while expanding the scale of her compositions. In order to make the change from small, book-sized paintings to ones that are as large as doors, Muehlemann had to find a way to sustain a supple tension between the scale of her brush strokes (they tend to be from the wrist and hand rather than the arm) and the allover field. Out of this intimate mark making she developed a painting that established a relationship between the composition and the subject or reference. Muehlemann’s practice is predicated on process, echoes, and mirroring; she wants her painting, like Cézanne’s late work, to maintain a relationship between a relatively small gestural mark and an allover field.

In contrast to other painters, such as Jake Berthot, who have aligned themselves with this tradition, Muehlemann doesn’t get overly caught up in her own sensitivity. At precisely the point where she was in danger of fetishizing her vocabulary of ellipses, she resisted. Her recent compositions tend to consist of allover fields of accumulated gestures in closely valued shades. In the middle of this field is a yellowish white vertical made up of small gestures that seem to cascade down the painting. And yet, despite its suggestion of gravity, the vertical seems to float. Placed on top of the field, the color clings like a reflection to the painting’s surface. Typically, the viewer sees this phenomenon as both light and paint, something simultaneously immaterial and material.

Muehlemann doesn’t seem to get caught up in current debate regarding abstraction’s diminished capabilities. Rather, her work has certain affinities with the abstraction of Myron Stout, particularly in its attempt to embody metaphors. This is not painting that proposes to tell us something about the world, but painting that embodies a world, one that is both here and, as the show’s title suggests, “elsewhere.”

John Yau