Claude Temin-Vergez


It’s surprising, when you think about it, how many women painters lately have been using Abstract Expressionism as a foil for their own work. In New York one can easily think of artists as various as Sue Williams, Suzanne McClelland, and Cecily Brown. Now, from France by way of London (where she was educated and currently works), comes Claude Temin-Vergez, who clearly has taken Jackson Pollock's poured paintings as her reference point, thereby showing a degree of nerve that's either admirable or foolish depending on your point of view. (It says a lot for both artists that whatever else one thinks of Temin-Vergez’s paintings, they don’t look dated.) Not that she emulates the reckless and expansive character of Pollock’s art. Her reinterpretation is essentially formalist—focusing on the swirling, interlacing arabesques of paint in his classic poured works of 1947 and 1950 and the way those webs of color sit so determinedly atop their canvas support—but inflected, perhaps, by ’70s-derived notions of pattern as a specifically feminine approach to form.

Temin-Vergez amplifies both the decorative character of the Pollockesque line and its physical palpability. Working on rigid supports (MDF or aluminum panels that have been painted a single opaque color) rather than canvas, she refuses her skeins of acrylic color any degree of absorption into the ground. Her extremely plasticky colored lines are emphatically tactile, and they intertwine, at times piling up, without ever mixing. This is made all the more obvious by the fact that Temin-Vergez works to create a suggestion of fragmentation. She never covers the near-entirety of the ground, as Pollock usually did, knitting together a relatively homogeneous surface; instead she emphasizes the dichotomy of paint and support and the distinction between one line and another by leaving much of the monochrome ground exposed. Likewise she counters Pollock's sense of the painting's internal wholeness, indicated by the way his pours are mostly contained within the limits of the canvas, by always allowing her patterns to go off the edges of the rectangle.

Like her emphasis on materiality and decoration, Temin-Vergez’s insistence on fragmentation is clearly polemical in intent—but it tends to weaken the paintings. The best canvases here are the most “allover” ones: Coulée-Crème (A pouring of cream), 2001, has a strongly centrifugal arrangement, a device that turns the monochrome ground, in this case a hot pink, into a kind of atmosphere or “space” rather than the literal surface the artist seems to want her grounds to remain, but helps create a sense of cloisonné richness that justifies the title of another of the more prepossessing paintings, Thousand Fold, 2002 (which also gives the exhibition its title). By contrast, those paintings in which the linear arabesques are confined to a single zone within the rectangle, Such as Dépliage Série #1 (Unfolding series #1) and Dépliage Série #2, both 2002, are the least satisfying. Here the decorative really threatens to become a kind of trimming, a mere garnish on what has become the dominant element of the painting: a monochrome rectangle that is not, after all, so very interesting in itself.

Barry Schwabsky