The chromatic condition

Jan 24, 2001 at 12:00 am

Great things often come by way of restriction — to stretch the limits of possibility within tight parameters. Restrictions in the artist’s palette become a visual think tank — surrounded by a specific problem, artists struggle to deduce a way out. In the case of the current shows at two metro-area galleries, restrictions go to extremes, to use no color at all and then to use the most saturated, intense hues you can imagine. Colorforms at the Detroit Artists Market and Achromatic at Revolution expressly deal with color (or the absence of it). Both shows provide a sense of the psychological impact that a precise palette creates.

For Achromatic at Revolution, the artists on view work in all types of media: painting, drawing, sculpture and photography — but the media come together by way of their neutral personalities, from the fact that the possibilities here are limited to black, white and gray.

Brenda Goodman’s startling paintings reveal the symbolism present in her earlier work. In her manipulation of the impasto style, we start to make out recognizable yet strange objects in the manic strokes, but they never fully emerge. Creating enormous tension, Goodman doesn’t justify anything, leaving the viewer lustful for more.

Using only black and white dilutes a subject to its essence, which is why black-and-white films are seen as emblematic. A cup sitting on a table turns into the archetype of “cup.” In Rebecca Quaytman’s “Replica of Kobro’s Spatial Composition 2, 1928” (pictured), these gradations of tone render a model of space which could be anyplace. Or no place, like Plato’s metaphorical cave: the floors, walls and trapdoors of one’s mind.

Then we walk into Colorforms at Detroit Artists Market and find ourselves absorbed into industrial-strength tinctures formed into sculpture and photography. Plastic color oozes from every corner — reminiscent of that pungent cherry Jolly Rancher still dissolving in your mouth.

DAM’s usually sunny windows facing Woodward are shrouded by Patrick Miceli’s installation, “Made in China,” 25,000 small toys strung together and organized into color groups to compose a field. Miceli says this field “becomes a place where we bring out individual and collective associations as they are triggered by the toys.”

Any sunlight peering through this array of trinkets illuminates “Hole Horse,” Robert Kalka’s rendition of a plastic toy horse dissected and placed in transparent multicolored boxes and then arranged to appear whole again.

And if pure color could truly exist it would be Gaston Bertin’s series of C-prints, “Looking at something that does not exist as if it did.” These simplistic shapes induce a visual high of penetrating blue-green next to vivid red-orange, or ringlets of neon green and yellow — all enough to intoxicate the viewer into a stupor.

Bertin says, “Light and colors are my materials ... I would like to avoid any symbolism, to transmit only feelings.” Bertin proves a work can contain emotional content through the color alone. This also explains why artists consider their palette carefully and decide which way proves best to pierce the retina.

Liz DiDonna writes about visual art for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]