New York

Robin Bruch, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36".

Robin Bruch, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36".

Robin Bruch

Leslie Fritz

Robin Bruch, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36".

Over the past forty years, Robin Bruch’s facture has remained constant—unwavering, even—while the simple shapes she sets in non-illusionistic space have been anything but. Her quivering and shivering forms refuse to be pinned down; some of her best paintings have a biomorphic quality that recalls cells mutating under a microscope’s lens. This recent, fifteen-work show consisted mostly of canvases made in 2012 and 2013, with a handful of works on paper from the 1970s and a single painting from the mid-’80s.

A motif Bruch returns to again and again is the triangle. Take, for instance, Untitled, 2012, which was installed near the gallery’s entrance. Here, Bruch superimposes two isosceles triangles touching apex to apex atop a second pair of triangles that are joined base to base. Set against a burnt-umber backdrop, these four intersecting figures produce a second set of triangles—twelve of them—in the negative space and the result is a near-kaleidoscopic fragmentation and almost fractal repetition. But if the geometry is complex, it’s nevertheless not strict or precise: Bruch painted each of the triangles freehand, without using a ruler or a grid. Every edge is slack, slightly curved, off-kilter, and the forms appear to quake. Think Mondrian on acid.

Born in Cleveland in 1948, Bruch landed in New York in the early ’70s after graduating from Bennington College, where she studied painting with Clement Greenberg and Kenneth Noland. In this show, one early work on paper from 1972 evinced her formalist training: Three simple circles hover in three delineated, gridded fields. However, in an adjacent work from just a few years later, Bruch’s geometric forms have mutated into irregular, shifting shapes with permeable borders. Here, she finds a kinship with Ross Bleckner, David Reed, and Alan Uglow—artists she showed with in Marcia Tucker’s 1975 Whitney Biennial—who sought to both champion and deconstruct abstract painting.

Bruch layers hue on top of hue, sometimes applying a thin topcoat of acrylic, watercolor, or gouache and letting the underlying shade show through. Often, the thin, rainbowlike outlines surrounding her shapes are lighter than the forms themselves resulting in a vibrating effect. These smudged and smeared borders infuse some of the pieces—among them two untitled 2013 canvases, wherein striped and solid forms with striated outlines buzz against fields of color that recede into space—with a sense of hesitancy, with moments of disbelief, suggesting a resistance to obdurate materiality. Still, Bruch’s works are ultimately markers of a slow and steady determination, a middle way of experimentation that is flamboyant but serious.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler