“Message to YoYo Ma,” a piece from Ileen Kaplan. (Photo provided)

“Message to YoYo Ma,” a piece from Ileen Kaplan. 


Known for their figurative painting, State of the Art Gallery members Patricia Brown and Ileen Kaplan have recently embarked on abstract series aimed at lyrical and metaphorical explorations of color, texture, and tactile evocation. Brown’s freeform embroideries repurpose old paint rags while Kaplan’s paintings combine solid blocks of color with loose, scribble-like markmaking.

Their two-person show, “Textures” is on-view at the SOAG this month (through Sept. 29).

Kaplan brings a wonderful sense of color and enviably refined paint handling to her everyday genre scenes. For the past couple or so years, she has been showing abstractions on canvas and board that betray a similarly sophisticated coupling of eye and hand. As might be expected, given her greater experience, her work is the more assured of the two artists here.

Nearly all of Kaplan’s pieces here feature collaged papers, frequently bearing logos indicating their upscale origins or relevant instructions and notations. These she layers and articulates using unusual combinations of oil and acrylic paint with various drawing materials. At their best, the results evoke archaeological layering as well as intimating psychic depths.

Combining acrylic, collage, graphite, and pastel on board, “Spring Fever” is the most compelling of her larger pieces here. It has an unusual delicacy of color. Against a white backdrop, blocks of cool gray and earthy saturated greens set off vapors of pale pink and green. Both in black, a vertical drip to the left and a centering calligraphic archway offer some familiar orientation.

Kaplan’s large paintings typically fit a horizontal format. Blocks of pale and saturated yellow punctuate richly inflected fields of gray in pieces like “You Set the Scene” and “Message for Yo Yo Ma” while “Keep Talking, I’m Listening” has a black background and smudgy faded textures. Miniatures like “Cradled” and “Stacked” are most often upright or square and feature varied, jewel-like colors and bolder, less obscured graphics.

This year, Brown has been working on a series of wall-hanging “Remnants,” which combine acrylic-spattered t-shirt fabric with areas of vividly colored stitchery bunched up in circular plastic and wooden embroidery hoops. The stitching, with its Van Gogh-like animacy, echoes the spattered paints—brightening and clarifying their indigenous hues. The range of color and format the artist explores here is impressive enough although the impression of a somewhat limited format lingers.

“Remnant #4: Jubilee” pays homage to the late Dorothy Cotton, a Civil Rights veteran and important local figure. Brown, an amateur singer, went on tour with the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers this past spring, visiting Cotton’s hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina. The piece’s bright, Easter-y colors give fitting homage to the singers’ collective musical expression.

Brown is also showing a range of what comes across as miscellany: ranging from assemblages and fashion design to (more interestingly) a couple of embroideries clarifying the feminist roots of her project. I would have perhaps preferred to see Brown’s hangings pushed a bit further: for example, towards a greater integration of the stitched and painted areas.

The SOAG membership tends to present work that is proficient but more-or-less conservative – or, more to the point, work that plays to familiar expectations. One usually knows what to expect from the member artists upon stepping through the door and results are often less than intriguing. (The back room “Salon” features a modest group selection every month.)

There’s a distinct tradition of painters at the gallery “going abstract.” It’s tempting to approach the putatively liberating move with some skepticism. After all abstract art is over a century old and more an established genre than something radically new. Still, offerings here demonstrate that the field is hardly exhausted.

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