New York

Donna Moylan

Nicole Klagsbrun

Living in Rome for most of the ’80s, American artist Donna Moylan could not help being influenced by the transavanguardia. What Moylan has retained from the movement, beyond a premium on painterliness, is a blithe indifference to the barriers between abstraction and representation. Delicate and blunt, intricate and slapdash, serene and lurid commingle; painstaking ornamental elaboration turns into the impatient, sweeping gesture that would wipe the slate clean; abstract forms and spontaneous effects bump up against precisely rendered images, not without surprise but certainly without antagonism. In Outburst (all works 2000), a painting in her recent show, five precisely delineated hummingbirds soar against a lyrical field of pink and white and red splashes, in which a sprig of white and pink flowers sprouts others that are simply flat white disks with pink centers. Such works may seem to drift dreamily between one thing and another, but while their exact logic may be hidden, the pictorial choices in Moylan’s best work are made with a fierce specificity.

The problem is that, given Moylan’s apparent willingness to try almost anything, her paintings can easily veer out of control (though somehow never out of character), and her shows have usually been uneven. The eight paintings on view were in imagery and style as various as ever, but they were stronger as a group and more consistent in quality than anything she’s previously shown in New York, where she now lives. Moylan’s work has sometimes been criticized as too “dry” or “cerebral,” presumably because of the sometimes rebuslike nature of her juxtapositions, but in fact what’s most engaging about these paintings is their unabashed romanticism.

They’re even willing to resort to the wiles of kitsch. A work like The Hills Are Alive, one of several here whose palette is so overheated you might think of paintings on velvet (another is the aptly titled Red Morning), practically dares you to dismiss it, even before you’ve noticed the Julie Andrews–redolent title. A vast, acidic sky looms over a rocky, mountainous landscape that’s so full of inner movement it’s like a stormy sea. It's more than a little too much. Yet the painting is so daring and at the same time so solid that if you don't turn away at once you may find that your skeptical gape has become an admiring gaze. In the Technicolor gold crepuscule of Doubles, some elegant yet almost ridiculously slender trees are reflected in the foreground lake, but only as casual splashes of nondescriptive paint. On either bank of the lake one spies a tiny nude figure, one male and one female, both shadowed by a sort of dematerialized twin made of tiny colored dots. There’s a certain New-Agey overtone to this last detail—do those pointillist figures represent the “subtle body” the theosophists used to natter about?—but because they are placed so carefully and unobtrusively within the overall structure of nested doublings and symmetries, the twins make an intuitive visual sense that requires no special suspension of one’s innate skepticism. Instead, one accepts that the pattern of symmetries within the painting may extend to its relation to reality: The painted world and the real one mirror each other, but differently.

Barry Schwabsky