New York

Pat Adams

Zabriskie Gallery

An ongoing issue in the tradition of abstraction is the amalgamation of the geometrical and the spontaneous, the axiomatic and the organic, in an “image” that makes fresh emotional, as well as intricate visual, sense. The point is not to outflank predictability, but to generate a sense of intensity that resonates with “meaningfulness.” To create an abstract art that offers too particular a reading sells its evocative possibilities short, while to create an abstract art that seems all too generally “profound” is to make it almost altogether meaningless. The most intriguing abstraction hovers indecisively between the militantly literal and the emotionally esoteric—between extrinsic physicality and intrinsic expressive value. It invites us to participate in the mood created by the interplay of its forms, with no certainty about what such participation can do for us. Nonetheless, we become aware that our consciousness is subtly altered by it, however soon we may return to everyday standards of consciousness. We are left with a sense of illumination about some feeling we had all along, the full subtlety of which we never realized until the “abstract” experience of it.

Pat Adams’ abstract paintings symbolize and explore intimacy: her circles, the interaction of which seems derived from Venn diagrams, are in effect figures in intense emotional relation. The result is usually the “off” relationship found in Dissimilar Unam, 1991: an inexact correspondence or coordination of essentially similar figures. Sometimes, as in World Without End, 1991, the circles elegantly interlock to create a kind of music of the spheres. But mostly they are at odds, however inseparable. Adams’ emotional universe is made all the more intense and “asymmetrical” by the textural means she uses to make it tangible and organically alive.

There are some abstract painters who see their work as an ironic confirmation of the fact that the modern world is an abstract system—another extrinsic use of abstraction. But this preemptive reading of experience simply acknowledges the limitations of their own work, and obscures its betrayal of the introspective effect of abstract art at its best. They miss what has been the basic task of abstraction since Wassily Kandinsky: the attempt to create work that has “inner necessity”—intrinsic significance—and as such can remind the spectator of his or her own depth of self.

Adams’ works, then, are about the many—mostly sultry—moods of libido. Nunc, 1991, seems to spell out, with deceptive psycho-mimetic clarity and simplicity, all the possibilities of the relationship. Reading from left to right, separate dark circles—seemingly hermetic monads—interact and finally merge into one bright sun. This reductive description says nothing about the rich modulations—energy surges—of Adams’ surfaces, which achieve an effect of inner radiance. In Adams’ paintings aura returns to abstraction: explicitly in the circle that is a body aura as well as a cosmic body (in High Roll, 1991, the central circular-saw form functions as the dervishing sun of an inner solar system), and implicitly, through their ecstatic surfaces. Indeed, Adams is trying to articulate a sense of ineffable ecstasy through basic Modernist means, indicating that their evocative magic is far from exhausted. In general, Adams has produced a body of art that reminds us that abstraction can still deal with matters of the deepest concern to us, and that its formal possibilities are not yet fully realized. Hers is not routine signature painting. Indeed, her work indicates that abstract art is likely to have as long and complex a history as that of figuration in the Renaissance.

Donald Kuspit