New York

Yeardley Leonard

Dee / Glasoe

EACH OF YEARDLEY LEONARD'S CANVASES consists of about ten to twenty horizontal stripes of color, plainly hand painted (no taped edges) in semitranslucent coats. The colors—consistently intense, even fulsome, with lots of purples and oranges, like a layered cocktail of wine, sherbet, and nail polish—tend to lighten and aerate at the top of each work, suggesting sky over land. But Leonard's horizontals resist being read as horizon lines, and each stripe—even the softer ones at the top, which are nonetheless insistently present—functions equally as both “figure” and “ground,” whether it is optically recessive or emergent, translucent or relatively opaque, flagrantly synthetic or soothingly naturalistic. Furthermore, the number and variety of stripes foil a landscape reading. (There seems to be no correlation between how big a painting is and how many stripes it contains; in fact, it is the smallest and the largest canvases in the recent show that have the most stripes.) Leonard speaks of “translating visual stimuli into code”: Each work is based on a specific site, the colors of which, photographically indexed, determine the palette of the encoded painting. But these paintings are not of places; they are about feelings of place.

Reproduced, Leonard's work might recall Kenneth Noland's horizontal stripe paintings from the '60s, but in fact the two groups of work have little in common. Noland's stripe paintings are typically much longer than Leonard's, like the largest-scale paintings of Pollock and particularly Newman, and they are far more impersonal in feeling than either Pollock's or Newman's. Part of that impersonality lies in the sense of speed and efficiency Noland's stripes carry, their way of letting the eye zing across the canvas with minimal resistance. Leonard's stripes aren't like that at all. On the contrary, their internal atmosphere, their sense of depth and tactility, works to counteract the eye's sweep across them. Leonard uses modulated color and texture to slow the eye down. But while her paintings are “slow,” they are not restful—they contain too many colors and too much information for that. Leonard's canvases are self-contained fragments of space, what used to be called easel paintings. Their real affinity, if one need be named, is with Brice Marden's early multipanel works—there a sense of concentration and stasis trumps the tendency toward extension or laterality, despite the dominant motif of the horizontal.

Yet I can't think of any paintings quite as emphatic about horizontality, or at least antiverticality, as Leonard's. Not about their own: Although they consist exclusively of horizontal elements, the canvases themselves are not extremely horizontal and are less so the bigger they are (the smallest ones here are twice as long as they arc high; the larger ones have a 2:3 ratio of height to width; and the largest, Appalachia, 2000, has a 3:4 ratio). I'm talking about a somatic effect more than a visual one. The paintings are weighted downward, and their effect is like hands softly but firmly pressing down on your shoulders; they assail you with an odd hut voluptuous sense of lassitude. For lack of a couch in the gallery, I happily ended up sitting on the concrete floor to look at them.

Barry Schwabsky