New York

Alphonse Borysewicz

Maybe it’s the hovering rash of dark spots on the quartet he calls Hunting the Queen, or the image of a chalky, primitive hive at the bottom tier of For an Unknown Church, or the migrating scatter of drably pigmented, insectlike marks swirling around Black Mulch/Swarm, but Alphonse Borysewicz’s recent abstractions (all works 1993) produce a sweetly, transcendental buzz.

Borysewicz does have a history of devotional art-making. He gave up seminary studies some years ago to find sanctuary in abstraction, occasionally delving into overtly religious constructions, later spending time in Japan before returning to his studio in Brooklyn. On the evidence here, I’d say this conversion marks him as an irreverent soul who may be engaged in a dialogue with God but shakes hands with a pie-throwing little devil. His canvases magnify minute portions of a pastoral universe at which he’s hurled daubs of paint the color of cow dung. This subversive muddying of rather elegant, if conventionally layered and diffuse, pictorial surfaces gives the work’s spiritual dimension a refreshingly down-to-earth, graffiti-like quality. Ghostly, energetic forms are set against pitted and scarred fields of oil and wax, and anchored by broken horizontal grid lines resembling poles of bamboo. The surfaces often resemble translucent cave walls overlaid with earthy swipes of a palette knife and casual strokes of a brush. One doesn’t look at them so much as peer into them.

The rippling pale-blue and browned-wheat surface of Black Mulch/Storm suggests a pool into which a curtain of dark caligraphic marks fall like driving rain. It is related to Japanese textile patterns—very pretty and detached—but verges on the precious, unlike Black Mulch/Yellow Field which hung next to it. Here, a parchment-colored grid, weathered gray with age, is given a few peatlike swabs attached vertically to one side like moss to an old stone fence.

In Family Tree, a collection of rough turquoise rounds with pale yellow “halos” dance across a stormy, gray horizon like bubbles blown in the wind. In the austere and rather witty River Rouge and Grace, a primitive chalicelike form hangs from an unevenly woven ochre grid, surrounded and crossed by wonderful little mudballs. This figure is echoed in Black Mulch/Swarm, in which Borysewicz’s signature, dark splotches outline a crudely made hourglass or lantern that extends to and falls over the edges of the painting. In Hunting the Queen II, a single dark teardrop, suspended at the top of the matted ivory plane, hangs in the air like an ethereal third eye. Number IV in this series has more sexual connotations: a portion of a stippled yellow oblong breaks through the top of the picture, its dark “nose” pointing to the bottom edge with effluent potential.

As a whole, these works are full of the light of optimism and they do suggest the beautiful, solitary landscapes of a born naturalist, but, finally, Borysewicz seems mainly concerned, to borrow a phrase from Wallace Stevens, with confronting “the difficulty of the visible.”

Linda Yablonsky