In praise of paint

Apr 2, 2008 at 12:00 am

In an age when you can pretty much make whatever art you want, however you want, by sitting in front of a computer screen, artists choose to paint because it is a sensual experience. There's nothing that gets the creative juices flowing like squeezing that gooey stuff from a tube and smearing it across canvas to remind you that being human is messy.

Linda Ross has curated a delectable show that lets us dig right in to thick, wet layers of color on canvas. From Childer Street to E. Grand Blvd. pairs Scottish-born Fraser Taylor and Detroiter Marcia Freedman, two abstract artists who create worlds to enter and explore. Although Freedman and Taylor hail from different countries — Childer Street references the location of Taylor's studio in London, and East Grand Boulevard, Freedman's studio in the Pioneer Building — both painters come from fundamental places in the tradition of painting. They portray, in their own unique style, landscapes and the body.

Taylor, who earned his MFA from London's renowned Royal College of Art, creates abstract outdoor street scenes and intimate interiors with an economy of line. Simple shapes such as circles, rectangles and squares mark out rough territory while color gives the image its depth. Taylor's still-life "Platter and Pears" echoes Henri Matisse's well-known "The Dessert: Harmony in Red," in which objects painted cool shades of blue or green recede and hot shades of red and yellow shove their way into the foreground.

Taylor also shares Matisse's interest in textiles. The early modernist was raised in a family of weavers in a textile town in northern France and later collected fabrics, costumes and carpets. Taylor currently works in the department of fiber and material studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He glues cloth to some of his paintings to add texture and impose boundaries, both literally and metaphorically. He paints over the swatches of fabric as if taking his brush for a walk along a bumpy road.

Where Taylor's paintings allude to our environment, Freedman's art plumbs the depths within. With as many as 20 layers of paint, which she slathers while wet, the artist builds up her canvases so our eyes can sink into them. Looking at her moody expressionist portraits from a few years ago is like peering closely at the human body, perhaps the tender flesh below a scab or the mess of tissue and muscle under a layer of skin. Even her palette references the body — jaundice yellow or the rosy brown of a bruise.

Freedman's titles, such as "Pathways" and "Blocked," suggest that she approaches her paintings as entrances — not only into the body, but also states of mind. "Raging" is a portrait of fury, anthropomorphized. It seems as if a fiery dragon stands erect, seething as it glares at a giant mound. Think of the way blood rushes to your head when you are furious, flushing your cheeks, and how that person who enrages you, through your tears, appears a little less human, like a blurry blob.

In recent work, Freedman muddies the water. She channels emotion in "Trauma," scouring into a murky gray painting with a palette knife to reveal hints of blue, red, white and yellow below, alluding to a memory housed in the back corner of the subconscious, once vivid, now foggy, distanced by time.

Included in the show are some smaller pieces by Freedman, such as a series of encaustic paintings of seeds and pods, covered in shellac, golden as sticky sap. She also presents an intense charcoal drawing of a body buried beneath the weight of her relentless black scribbles. Finding that skeletal figure takes a while; you have to sort through the deep, dark mess, probe the layers, to even begin to see where her process began.

You shouldn't stare at any painting or drawing as if it were an image on a flat-screen TV. You have to seek what lives, thrives, within.

From Childer Street to East Grand Blvd.:Paintings and Drawings by Fraser Taylor and Marcia Freedman runs through April 12 at Linda Ross Contemporary Art + Projects' Site 4, 2243 Cole St., Birmingham; 248-892-2985.

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts and culture editor. Send comments to [email protected]