Huntington

Connie Fox, Sammy’s Beach I, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 80 × 88". From the series “Sammy’s Beach,” 2007–14.

Connie Fox, Sammy’s Beach I, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 80 × 88". From the series “Sammy’s Beach,” 2007–14.

Connie Fox

Heckscher Museum of Art

Sammy’s Beach is a narrow stretch of sand in the Northwest Harbor area of East Hampton, New York. There’s a lot to take in, but not all at once. Look one way as you stand there, and you’re gazing out across Gardiners Bay toward Long Island’s North Fork. Turn around and there’s Three Mile Harbor. Across the harbor is Springs, the East Hampton hamlet that was a magnet for the Abstract Expressionists: Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner as well as Willem and Elaine de Kooning were among its celebrated residents. It was Elaine who suggested to Connie Fox, her somewhat younger contemporary, that she relocate to Long Island—which Fox finally did in 1980. While the fourteen “Sammy’s Beach” paintings Fox made between 2007 and 2014—presented here along with some related drawings—have everything to do with abstract qualities of light, air, space, and the temporal process of perception, showing the artist sparing not a thought for topographical exactitude, I can’t help thinking that they also embody reflections on the divide that separates her from the terrain of the Abstract Expressionists, even though they remain neighbors in other ways.

One thing Fox shares with those contemporaries is a sheer gusto in mark-making, in pushing paint around a rectangle. But Fox also seems to enjoy placing barriers and baffles in the way of the free play of gesture. In earlier works, those impediments might take the form of recalcitrantly volumetric pictorial shapes that caused all kinds of trouble for spontaneous flow but, in recompense, would generate a kind of polymorphous perspectivalism. This multiplicity of viewpoints seemed less about reconstructing the object à la Cubism than about inhabiting subjectivity as a space in which memory, perception, and anticipation keep colliding—or, as critic Arthur Danto once wrote, “putting the viewer inside and outside simultaneously, close up and at a distance, perceiving, remembering, feeling, and dreaming, all within the same consciousness.”

In the “Sammy’s Beach” paintings, all these simultaneous cognitive/corporeal events feel less in conflict than they do in some of Fox’s earlier works. Flow has been regained, but not at the cost of complexity. In Sammy’s Beach I, 2007, a central yellow-tinged blast of gray, quietly populated by nuances of botanical form, seems to whoosh back into the distance in extreme perspective, only to be stopped short toward the top of the canvas by a diamond-like figure, more drawn than painted, that somehow floats very much in the foreground rather than in the back plane, where we thought we were headed. Swarms of bluish marks rush in from the right like white-capped waves stirred up by a storm. A bit less restless are the gray linear markings to the left, which I read as possibly dune grasses—but they, too, are full of motion. Everything the painting contains is full of contrary forces, buzzing, going somewhere; but the picture itself is somehow unruffled.

In the nocturnal Sammy’s Beach III, 2009, it becomes evident that an underlying grid serves as an armature on which forms of all sorts may impose themselves. Sammy’s Beach VI, 2009, makes an explicit subject of the grid, yet the work is just as tempestuous, in its way, as any of the others in the series. With its troupe of blues and whites at the bottom weighed down by metallic golden browns above, this painting seems to take the viewpoint of the sea staring down its rival, the shore. In Sammy’s Beach XIV, 2014, everything dissolves in a humid atmosphere, despite the water itself suddenly receding into the distance; earth, air, and what might be human figures communicate via refraction. This canvas, the finale to the series, is not a summation but rather an ellipsis that allows the work’s resonances to echo into the unforeseen: a beautiful opening in lieu of a conclusion.