Extracting the Real

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Evelyn Twitchell's absorbing abstractions at Bowery Gallery

By John Goodrich

Painting can be a sign, a concept, or documentation. In the postmodern age, it can be a comment about painting itself. Of course, it can even be a likeness ? and this may be the most challenging of all because of the sheer complexity of the language of paint. What, after all, constitutes a faithful representation? As any artist soon realizes, a literalistic semblance may feel utterly false, while an abstracted image can ring with the truth.

One painter who arrives at the real through abstraction is Evelyn Twitchell, whose paintings, works on paper and relief sculptures are currently on view at Bowery Gallery. Despite the artist's wide range of media, almost all her pieces employ an idiom of networks of lines and layered, intersecting arcs to shape impressions of nature. They capture not so much specific instances of the natural world as visions of movement and growth. In the gouache Dark River (2012), the simple expedient of blended gray and black brushstrokes uncannily recreates the effect of a rippling body of water; one thinks of the intimate vastness of Vija Celmins' monochromatic "Ocean" series. Several other works, such as the painting Membrane (2012), evoke organic depths through veils of warm hues and scrims of vein-like lines.

But my favorite pieces here evoke the presence of forms with compositional tensions rather than atmosphere and textures. In the painting Bud (2012), essentially a line drawing on a reddish-beige ground, repeated diagonals keen towards one upper corner, countering the impetus of a broad curve kinking around the canvas' other edges. Parallel curving facets of the relief sculpture Trunk (2012) tug against each other along their vertical axes, imparting a similar effect of rhythmic growth, only in three dimensions; we can imagine it having grown on the wall, like crystals, from a single grain.

Twitchell's colors multiply the energy of her lines in paintings like Understory (2011), in which see-sawing arcs of dark brown- and gray-greens climb the canvas, diminishing in size as they proceed. The eye arrives finally at a single, postage-stamp sized patch of intense cerulean blue. One has the intense sensation of looking up into a deep, spreading canopy of leaves. Best of all is "River Night" (2011), in which vertical notes of warm subdued gray, off-white, and blue, framed above and below by dense greenish blacks, become the tangible fact of a tree trunk glimpsed in a forest. It seems to have condensed, in a flash of cognition, out of a primordial brew of colors and shapes. The dance of forms becomes the expression of nature-varied, encompassing, self-generating-in ways that only paint can conjure.

Evelyn Twitchell: Recent Work through June 15. Bowery Gallery, 530 W. 25th St. www.bowerygallery.org

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