New York

Francesca Gabbiani

I-20 Gallery

For years I’ve seen these tiny things, translucent filaments or monocellular organisms, floating around my field of vision—not all the time, but sometimes. When I was young I thought that I had especially keen sight and was able to see the workings of germs. Then I learned the word for this phenomenon, learned that since it had a name my powers of perception were probably not extraordinary, forgot the word, and though I still see these shapes moving around before my eyeballs, I hadn’t thought about them or what they might mean until I saw the intense, coolly radiant paintings of Francesca Gabbiani.

Most of Gabbiani’s works are oil and wax on aluminum. Even the large ones with wide, sparse passages coil and spin with frenetic activity—scratchings and circular scribblings, through layers of white down to a base of blue, blue-green, or purple, that float in the glowing space but also blister up through it, somethings caught in the wrong dimension. The probed surfaces make Gabbiani’s painting a kind of microspelunking, but it’s wonderfully difficult to tell if what is being explored is the cave of memory or the misty expanses of nebulae.

In Sucker, 1997, lunar bubbles mottled in forest green and deep sea-blue hover while clusters of wobbly round or elliptical rings bump up against each other. One part of the painting is rubbed down and worn so as to smudge the paint layers. Gabbiani’s facture looks simultaneously ancient and futuristic, as if someone in stardate 2500 were researching the work of Robert Ryman and Cy Twombly. Abandoning organic curves, Unsure, 1998, investigates three cartographic grids of blue and black that appear through a painting plane that almost pulses from the subtle processes that give rise to its diaphanous cloud-blue sheen. Bits of the grids, little squarish units, break off into the expanse; some rush to the edge. Computer graphics and digital imaging of demographic data would seem to have inspired Gabbiani’s most rambunctious work, No Dream, 1998: a structure of various sizes of circles, rectangles, and squares cut from thick metal slabs (with a few thin, flat pieces), some freestanding on the floor, the accumulating shapes beginning to mimic the systems of periwinkle and darker grids—like the outlines of city sections on road maps—on their white surfaces.

Gabbiani’s smaller works resolve themselves more successfully than her larger ones; whatever their charms and necessary ambition, at a larger scale the paintings lose elements of her fabulous intensity. And yet the largest work in the show, Up Side Up, 1998, was also one of the most enthralling, so perhaps she already knows that one solution might be to go even larger. Jettisoning aluminum for three panels of door skin hung with space between them, Up Side Up retains the wonder of her scratching and rubbing and searching but expands it, well, astronomically, creating a kind of map of consciousness by linking the lines and erasures of line between things in any space at all.

Gabbiani picks at the surface of painting as if it were a scab that, once gone, would reveal the sky and who knows what other realm.

Bruce Hainley