New York

Peggy Cyphers

E. M. Donahue Gallery

The 70-by-50 inch canvases that comprised Peggy Cyphers’ most recent show were not only the largest but the most impressive of the works she has exhibited in recent years. Her intense exploration of the language of expressionism over the last decade has reached a new height in these works. Her most recent paintings combine abstraction and figuration to lyrical effect, and many of her titles suggest an allegorical dimension.

Onto a ground of gesso tinted a pale yellow, Cyphers silk-screened owls, birds, lizards, and images of women from the ’60s against a central grid, then partially painted over this imagery with acrylic, adding sand to selected areas of the picture plane. It is, in fact, the very tactility of her surfaces, the choice of materials, that lends Cyphers’ work its expressive charge. In Slay the Dragon (all works 1994–95) and Gates of the Heart, biomorphic shapes bump up against dynamic brush strokes and swirling patches of sand applied directly to the canvas, evoking physical confrontation and emotional turmoil. Using the same materials, Cyphers creates a delicately luminescent surface in Madonna Enthroned, a work that recalls the gold-ground paintings of the early Italian Renaissance. As a whole, these masterfully textured, gold-toned and rosy-hued paintings, speckled with blue grays and greens, are animated by a quasi-religious light that evokes the colorful Byzantine mosaics that have fascinated Cyphers since childhood.

Ronny Cohen