New York

Elliott Puckette

Wood panels covered in a sparse tracery of calligraphic lines, Elliott Puckette’s works are ethereal. Her latest efforts are named for great winds, Sirocco, 1995, and Harmattan, 1995, while in another work, Hala, 1994, the thin white lines that cling to empty space echo the surface roots of the eponymous Hawaiian tree. Throughout these paintings, darkened grounds appear to have been scrubbed over gesso with a soft cloth or brush. Light soaks back through translucent veils of ink, creating an effect similar to the glint of pale stones from the bottom of a pool at night. This serenity, which can sometimes verge on stasis, is new for Puckette; her earlier work featured a compulsive, allover line that looked like a handwriting exercise gone haywire. These images seemed tooled by a scratchy stylus, while the current forms have all the free-moving grace of Asian brushwork.

And though it appears that the slightest disturbance might blow these fragile images away, they couldn’t be more permanent if they were tattoos. Like Simon Leung’s pinprick drawings, Puckette’s paintings are based on scarification. The white line isn’t applied, but revealed: the black ink is etched away with a razor blade to expose the white gesso below. Thus, what looks to be all elegant simplicity is actually an elaborate process, which, like many deceptions (the wasp-thin waistline created by a corset, for example), entails an element of perversion. The process in Puckette’s work recalls the obsessive-compulsive behavior known as delicate cutting, a patently feminine form of self-mutilation that involves the adolescent cutter snipping into her flesh to distract herself from the traumas of puberty. In terms of Puckette’s art, the laborious intensity of her blade counters the breezy appearance of its effects: here, the decorative (amateur and feminine) meets the abstract (assured and masculine), the East encounters the West. Traditionally these realms have stood for opposites that cancel one another out; in Puckette’s paintings they coexist in exquisite tension.

Ingrid Schaffner