New York

Susan Mastrangelo, Shining Lights, 2020, acrylic paint, yarn, cord filler, fabric, 60 × 48".

Susan Mastrangelo, Shining Lights, 2020, acrylic paint, yarn, cord filler, fabric, 60 × 48".

Susan Mastrangelo

490 Atlantic

Having flown mostly under the art world’s radar for decades—during which time she’s moved nimbly between abstraction and figuration, primarily in sculpture—Susan Mastrangelo is now doing what looks to me like her best work yet, and it’s painting . . . but only sort of. Her most recent pieces are rectangular and hang on the wall, and there’s even paint on them, but other materials take the leading role. (One might even call her objects polychrome reliefs, to be pedantic about it.) This show, “Safe at Home,” included three smaller works from 2021 (each one thirty inches high by twenty-four inches wide) and two relatively larger ones from 2020 (both five feet high by four feet wide). To make pieces of this nature, Mastrangelo “draws” on wood panels using upholstery cording of various weights, but which is usually quite heavy and ropelike. Her robust, sinuous lines, as exuberant as they are considered, often define simple closed-off biomorphic shapes. But the cords are not only there to construct these organic compartments, which feel secondary to the lines’ motile energy and the constant sense of movement embodied in them. The lines also remain in alert dialogue with the rectilinear surface they occupy; they seem to explore it, seeking out its limits with a mix of deep curiosity and respectful circumspection.

Once the cording has been placed, Mastrangelo covers the whole rectangle with gesso, and that’s when the paint can go on. More importantly, she also collages printed fabrics as well as netlike swaths of loosely knitted yarn—sometimes monochromatic, sometimes multicolored—to the surface. These meshes expand, contract, twist, and overlap, lending the compositions their delicious convolutions. More than a hundred years after the fact, Mastrangelo shows there’s still inspiration to be drawn from, of all things, Synthetic Cubism. Looking at her works, I couldn’t help but think back to Picasso’s collage painting Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912, and not just because the stout rope with which he framed his oval tableau is echoed by the cord filler she’s used as the foundation of hers, but also because the printed oilcloth Picasso added to his piece—the faux chair caning—resonates with her patterned textiles. And, like the Cubists, Mastrangelo is not averse to a little trompe l’oeil. For instance, in Unbridled Passion, 2020, you might have to look a little harder than you initially thought to differentiate between the passages that are painted and those that are industrially produced. And it could take some time before you realize how the variations of surface tension in the knitted meshes function like shading to create discreet illusions of volume, despite being so self-evidently flat over the painted and collaged wood support. The trickiness is not there for its own sake; it adds formal complexity. Mastrangelo, I should add, doesn’t seem particularly concerned with presenting an homage or offering commentary on her historical forebears. I suspect she dredges up from the depths of her artistic memory the idiom that best suits her need for a pictorial vocabulary that allows for density and allusiveness. That’s all the more welcome at a time like this, when a single-minded obviousness, lamentably, seems to the preferred route for so many other artists. Nothing was pictured here, yet the art was very much about bodies moving through life. As poet and critic Albert Mobilio observes in the accompanying catalogue, the artist evokes “our sense of movement against and in concord with the resistant world”—but she also shows us how the world flows through our very own bodies.