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Berry Campbell Gallery opens the 2021 season with a solo exhibition of recent work by Jill Nathanson
Jill Nathanson, Light's Cover, 2019. Acrylic and polymers on panel, 38 1/4 x 74 in.

NEW YORK, NY.- Berry Campbell Gallery started of the 2021 season with a solo exhibition of recent work by New York artist, Jill Nathanson. Nathanson’s new paintings continue her exploration of color theory. Combining this with her elaborate process of mixing and pouring paints on to wood panel, Nathanson stands apart from her contemporaries. In 2015, Nathanson was one of six artists in Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, Florida, curated by Jaime DeSimone, an exhibition focused on new, experimental approaches to the process of painting. The other participants were Keltie Ferris, Maya Hayuk, Fran O’Neill, Jackie Saccoccio, and Anke Weyer. This year, the Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, and the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska, have all acquired works by Nathanson.

This is Berry Campbell’s third exhibition of Jill Nathanson’s paintings. The exhibition will be accompanied by an online catalogue with an essay by New York based artist and independent arts writer, Christina Kee. Jill Nathanson: Light Phrase is on view from January 7 through February 6, 2021 at Berry Campbell’s Chelsea, New York, location. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm.

Particles, Pours and Bright Waveforms: Jill Nathanson’s Recent Work
By Christina Kee

Jill Nathanson’s new paintings powerfully showcase the results of a career-long commitment to pure abstraction, and more specifically to an ongoing exploration, through transparent and translucent planes, into color in its most charged and changeable form. For the past decade Nathanson has been composing paintings that are at once inviting and dissonantly challenging from “veils” of transparent acrylic pours, in which clear-hued areas of color push, expand and overlap one another. It is a visual mode that both emphasizes and negates the implications of the gesture; the works are clearly done by hand, usually on an outstretched-arm scale, but in their reliance on clear open planes they remind with a near-platonic sensibility that the essential components of abstraction (color and measurable form) exist prior to and beyond an artist’s controlling hand. Nathanson’s works can be read as positioned between what can be materially created by the palette and pour, and what exists as given constants – the spectrum vibrations that we see and feel as pure color energies.

Through the past decade of work Nathanson has established a relationship to color and form that is both expert and improvisatory. Despite the bold assertiveness of her new paintings they feel finely calibrated, and evince the peculiar inverse relationship specific to works resulting from focused forms of study: the more subtle the action, the greater the impact. The works on view in Light Phrase suggest the attainment of a pictorial and emotional range in which the slightest alteration in shade or inflection of edge carries clear visual consequence. The subtly innovative compositions and color relationships that these works present feel authentic and new, and speak of the workings of an entire inner universe.

A distinctive aspect of many of these new works is a dynamic compositional structure loosely reminiscent of a “sine” curve. Built from a series of transparent disc-and-drape forms, this rhythmic wave stretches from one corner of the painting to the other, alternately ascending and diving, energizing the picture plane and physically evoking sensations of speed and distance. It is a masterful and original means of fully elucidating the visual concerns Nathanson has been exploring for years, and coherently bringing unexpected color relations – even opposites – into proximity and play.

In Sparkshift the “sine” curve boldly appears amidst a richly modulated spectrum that runs from red through to a violet-inflected rose. The compositional fluidity of the work initially obscures the fact that this structure is made not from a continuous wave-shaped mark, but from a balance of only five intermittently intersecting planes. As in a musical round, or a relay race, the completion of the whole is dependent on a successive action, on one part leading to the next. The sharp double-touch of the blue central form with the rose toward the bottom of the canvas is a crucial link of the painting’s lower central curve, for example, but is only completed by the plane of warm gold that deftly eclipses both, sweeping the eye upwards to the painting’s right-most apex. The pictorial energy generated by the wave pushes up against all edges of the painting, conveying an expansive sense of scale and alluding also, perhaps, to the notion of infinity implicit in the echo of a geometric waveform.

Some of the most compelling moments of Nathanson’s works continue to occur in transition passages where one transparent plane overlaps another. The resulting area is quite literally nameless in color; through the artist’s skilled handling the transitional area takes its unmuddied color through the superimposition of two separate and distinctly pigmented planes. In Light Wrestle, one of Nathanson’s most exciting works to date, these passages occur at regular intervals, and are even complicated by areas of triple overlap towards the upper right of the painting. Simply looking carefully, meditating perhaps, on these language-defying passages is an effective way of accessing the richness of this work: there is the darker tone towards the center, for example, where a soft wine-colored pour co-exists with a delicate green, then the same green encountering the tangerine on the left in a columnar shape of unnamable hue. At right a complimentary deep orange and azure blue are joined improbably and – when one is paying proper attention, spectacularly.

Nathanson remembers being introduced to the idea of color as a vibrational entity, beyond nameable attribute, first as a Bennington College student in conversations with Kenneth Noland. From her early education and inclination towards Color Field, through to her current interest in more recent and associatively layered abstraction, Nathanson has deepened this sensory understanding. In 2010 Nathanson happened on using theatre-lighting gels in a series of collages, and began exploring the effects of their transparent interactions. Although Nathanson no longer works with gels, the material reference they make to the additive process of mixing color with lightwaves (in contrast to the subtractive process at play in pigmented color mixing, where certain spectrum colors are absorbed by the material) is still of interest to the current work, which so clearly incorporates an expanded view of color as an active, de-materialized force.

When speaking of her work Nathanson often frames the discussion around the excitement of color-related discoveries specific to individual paintings. “I’ve been learning that color behaves differently when it is shaped by a curved edge than when it is up against a straight edge,” Nathanson said on a recent studio visit. By way of elaboration, she made reference to the way waves, or streaming particles, might hit and bounce off of a surface like a wall, versus how they might be deflected off of a rounded form. The idea of color carrying specific momentum based on the shape in which it is expressed is an intriguing one, and relevant to the viewing of Nathanson’s work that so skillfully moves the eye at varying speeds over the entire painting. Particle behavior might also be intuited in the passages of overlapping color, which, like some quantum entity, are absolutely two things at the same time – playing, like Nathanson’s vision of painting itself, between matter and energy.

The matter part of this equation – the “stuff” of painting – remains throughout these color explorations all-important, and it is crucial that this current series exist in pigment and in paint, not, for example, as a lightbox or projection. It is through the physicality of the poured textures and the touch visible in areas of brushwork that we can re-imagine the making of the painting, which in Nathanson’s case is a sustained investment in the creation of a contained and internally coherent statement within the flatness of the picture plane. There is a remarkable specificity to the distinct “spaces,” both actual and associative, presented in these recent works, from the gorgeous and steeply pitched intensity of Octaves Red, to the coolly sloping fields of Only a Friend. Despite the entirely non-referential mode in which Nathanson works, devoid of illusionism or symbolism, she conveys a host of complex thematic associations through the experience of viewing, engaging the psychological and spiritual potentialities of a unifying field of vision.

There is a progression of experience that occurs in the viewing of each of these recent paintings. Following the impact of the initial viewing, prolonged looking evokes a sense of “seeking” or uncertainty that keeps the eye moving before a final sense of resolution materializes. This elusive sensation might be related to the one-to-the-next composition of the “sine” paintings, where each color plane plays a specific role in completing the waveform. By extension, the separate color components of Nathanson’s paintings can all be understood as parts adding up through slow connection to a multivalent whole. When these delicate relationships are intuited, Nathanson’s painting feel like worlds seen in the process of their own completion.

Light Measure exemplifies the sense of interconnectedness and completion felt throughout this new series. The softest orange and pale veiled blue are here mediated by directionally opposite green and violet forms that lead the eye both upwards and downwards, and through layers of compressed space before settling, perhaps, on a stable, radial reading of the work. The sensation is not unlike witnessing a sunrise. As with so many of Nathanson’s new works, Light Measure allows for associations quite rare to pure abstraction: warmth, gentleness, and the quiet optimism of the first seen light.

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