San Francisco

Laurie Reid

Wirtz Art

Laurie Reid titled her recent exhibition of eleven watercolors “Speechless,” but while the totality may have been visually subdued, the show’s cumulative effect was far from mute: The works on paper, each an iteration of a nearly identical motif, expressed a variety of ideas and posed a number of questions that changed according to one’s physical proximity to them. From a distance, the paintings appear to be two-dimensional, almost photographic evocations of the contours of mountains enshrouded in mist, or of lines made by water in sand. But on closer observation, they reveal themselves to be loose matrices of thick, undulating parallel horizontal lines connected by thinner, shorter vertical marks. They variously resemble cellular structures, veins in a leaf, and the staggered grid of a brick wall. Each painting thus appears markedly dimensional, its pronounced horizontal ridges appearing to project toward the viewer. They suggest slopes and valleys, or perhaps ribs beneath skin.

This sculptural aspect shifts the tone of the work in a more abstract direction, where figurative associations recede and the interplay of material, form, and gesture assumes primacy. Reid’s chosen materials—a particularly absorbent cotton rag paper, and water subtly tinted with minerals—effect a striking transformation when combined. The artist’s application of the liquid creates an emphatic, almost violent, convex buckling. Framed, the works take on a slightly elegiac quality as the warping of the paper is fixed and preserved. A continued tension, however, is visible along the lower edge of many of the works, as the paper seemingly struggles to curl further, revealing a strain on the tabs used to mount it to the backing. The phenomenon may be accidental, but it highlights the unruly natural processes on which Reid relies. The frames also foreground the works’ indeterminate formal identity, which wavers between painting and sculpture.

Reid’s palette is limited to cool blue, sometimes with a hint of green, and a brackish red so pale that it could have been made from a few drops of blood diluted in water. The minimal nature of the compositions tends to emphasize slight shifts in color or the quality of line that results from the way the pigment dries. Coin-size splashes are visible here and there, though the naturally “expressionistic” drips are not the focus here, as they are in some of Reid’s earlier works. This show was more effectively centered on its installation as a sequence of repeated motifs. If the eleven paintings were followed clockwise, they enacted a meditative narrative of fading and reduction. Speechless 9 and Speechless 8 (all works 2007), are more pronounced in color and grander in scale than Speechless 10 and Speechless 11. The bulges and the loose grid structure form a constant framework throughout.

The matrix motif is one that Reid explores in another series, “Softest Wall” (1996–). This revisitation constituted an impressive act of deepening, conveying a sense that the new work was made with a firmer hand, in a manner that communicates a quiet power.

Glen Helfand