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Leigh Wen, Grace Mitchell, Shelley Robzen

October 7, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

Opening Reception, Saturday, October 7, 4-6:30 PMGrace Mitchell appears courtesy the Allen Sheppard Gallery, NYCSimplicity is a most clandestine temptation. It exists in the imagination in a very different manner then it is in real experience.

To apprehend it, we must first subdue it as an idea, and then keep it alive indefinitely in captivity. Then needing nothing further, allow ourselves to be satisfied in it, as though it was the small smooth nut undisclosed in sturdy corrugated armour in the middle of our highly untidy peach.

Artists Leigh Wen, Shelley Robzen and Grace Mitchell instruct us in the escapades and caprices of illustrating the notion of decrease. In the serene and agile style of each very diverse artist’s work is the formal disguise of simplicity. Particularly in Robzen’s bald sculptural forms – but sympathetically asserted by both painters as well – the prospect that conveys is a tangential minimalism.

If we were to learn something from these artists that we hadn’t established before, perhaps it is that simplicity is a tangent; a line, a curve, that touches something but doesn’t antagonize it.

Leigh Wen’s monumental water paintings impose the condition of drowning: the instant after one gives up the struggle for oxygen and recalls how to breathe in liquid again. Her paintings invite their viewers to let go, submerge into the baptizing water. There is no foreign material to confuse the process, suggest any other outcome or desire. In this process of elimination Wen achieves a form of elemental purity. However, to paint this place of asceticism with allure, assist viewers to will their vow of poverty, she makes complex and rapturous the simplicity she offers. The nothingness turns from nothingness to a big and invigorating sensual adventure. Thus, these paintings do not cross a line of no return, they brush it and head off to other destinies.

Grace Mitchell’s reverential landscapes are not as much about place as they are about power and awe of place. Mitchell hones the natural world down to an essence, allowing it to dissipate out of focus; enough to be an anonymous landscape in silhouette, or a portrait of darkening air moistened by waves, pinked by a secret sun. In lack of clarity is certainly another brand of simplicity. Mitchell’s atmospheric compositions hum with premonition, though. The imagined sounds that issue from these paintings are symphonic and stimulating. We cannot help but hear them even as we are lulled into still contentment.

The pure, sugar white volume teased into liquid form from Carrera marble by Shelley Robzen approaches abstinence the most intimately of the three artists in the show. This is wonderfully ironic because she employs physical form to discuss its departure. In the exquisite bluntness of her sculpture falls the burden of arguing that the truth of any feature of our desire or aversion lies in the melting away or reducing of it. When we can just barely recognize it, we can perhaps best understand its hold on us in a subconscious way. We feel her work to be as much about the very end of something – geological or botanical – as the very fetal beginning of it. Like the simple seed in the marvelous peach.

Deborah McLeod, art critic


October 7, 2006
11:06 pm

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