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Charlotte Jackson Fine Art opens exhibition of works by Max Cole
Max Cole, Greek Cross XVI, 2016. Acrylic on linen, 39 x 39 inches.

SANTA FE, NM.- To stand still, quiet, stripped of everything. The opposition of voices and chatter, mood and desire – gone. To be that stillness. To be that quiet point in the universe. Max Cole paints from this place. And her paintings, if the viewer is able to come wholly into their unique space, can travel there with her.

With their elegant simplicity and implicit balance, Max Cole’s paintings center and ground the viewer. The basic palette of black, greys, and pale browns work to strip away distraction. Max Cole has long been known for the exquisite precision of her work stacking alternating bands of horizontal lines, many of which are made up of tiny, hand-drawn vertical lines. The majority of works in this exhibition use the same techniques, but with the added element of a reference to the geometric form of the Greek Cross.

In 1958, as a young art student, Max Cole first encountered the work of Kazimir Malevich – in particular his work based on the Greek Cross. The philosophy of Malevich’s Russian Suprematism movement, which united mysticism and art, affected her deeply and has influenced her art throughout her career. For Cole, the spiritual is the bridge necessary to transcend the intellectual and emotional within art.

In 2015 – one hundred years after Malevich’s painting of the Greek Cross, Max Cole was invited to participate in a portfolio of prints honoring Malevich’s Black Square. Cole made a print based on Malevich’s Greek Cross, which had inspired her and served as a leaping off point for her own work back when she was an art student. It felt like a natural step to return to her beginnings and revisit the form – honoring both his work, and coming full circle with her own.

Geometrically, the Greek Cross is a square cut into thirds both horizontally and vertically – creating a perfect equilibrium of form. Each of Cole’s paintings is on a square format. The cross form is sometimes quite clear – for example, a bold black form bisecting the canvas vertically and horizontally. In other instances, however, the form is only implied – black blocks hovering above and below a gray band, bands of black ghosting beneath an over-layer of white. In addition to Cole’s signature use of minute, intricate hand-drawn vertical lines, she also uses areas of thick paint with various surface textures. These layered areas work architecturally to create additional lines of light and shadows across the canvas.

Cole’s work, though based on the geometry of the Greek Cross and Malevich’s original, upsets the inherent equilibrium of the form by gently distorting its perfect symmetry, creating tension. As with Cole’s horizontal band pieces, the strain between vertical and horizontal are here resolved in an intuitive and visceral balancing of tensions rather than in a perfecting of the form itself. For Cole, this reflects the inherent and necessary balance between opposing forces, like Yin and Yang.

Each piece, with its delicate balance and aura of calm focus, works its slow magic upon the viewer: Drawing in, reaching out. Quieting the mind until the viewer is able to breathe in the rhythm of the painting, to feel the essence, the solitude and poise, that exists behind each brushstroke.

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