Six Women Artists: An Ongoing Lyric Approach
The six artists in this show–Marianne Barcellona, Lois Bender, Maggie Hinders, Diana Hobson, Barbara Lubliner, and Nancy Nikkal–all create, from an outlook within themselves, a body of work that can be called lyric. Painting and poetry have always remained close to each other in Western art and writing. And the abstract-expressionist movement that continues to influence these women was, from the start, an ongoing lyric moment–indeed, one of such magnitude and achievement that it shows up in an accomplished manner in the work of those exhibited here, four and five generations later. It is remarkable that, as time has moved on, we remain strongly influenced by gestural abstraction from the middle of the last century. Yet this is the case. All the artists I have chosen, from more than one hundred portfolios, demonstrate more than passing knowledge of such work; indeed, they bring forward abstract art in a way that both remains attached to and moves beyond this idiom, although often, too, the work is a mixture of abstraction and figuration. In the past few decades, art in New York has been directed by intellectual concerns—that is one way of establishing something new. But the lyric position, so important to American painting, continues to hold influence. These artists make it clear that they not only understand the past, they also want to develop beyond their comprehension of it.
Much of the work of these six artists not only appears to be influenced by gestural abstraction, it also feels like the perception of nature plays a part in their thinking. Sometimes, as with the case of Arshile Gorky, nature never really leaves the imagination. While it cannot be said conclusively that the artists in the group I have chosen work from external, in addition to interior, resources, it is clear that, in more than a few paintings, the work’s imagistic vocabulary and/or its color scheme derive from the outside world. This means something that many who look at abstract art have intuited–namely, that imageries experienced in such painting come from a variety of sources, including the natural world. In Gorky’s efforts, much of the precision of his art came from his understanding of flora; the garden, and perhaps the wild, is always available in his paintings and drawings. As happens in the six women we see in this show, their love of beauty, as adumbrated in the imagination and beyond it, plays a real role in the kind of works they paint.
Marianne Barcellona’s paintings of Iceland, as well as her studies of trees and cityscapes, cannot be called abstract to any particular degree. Even so, the paintings, made from a broad variety of materials (ink, gouache, oil, acrylic), offer forms that make sense as abstraction when isolated. It looks like Barcellona has traveled a lot, deriving inspiration from different places and landscapes. Her sensitivity to the world outdoors is unusually strong; not only mountains and trees but also city streets receive the attention of a habitually focused eye. Her renderings are not devoted to particulars so much as they are determined by an open sense of what can be seen in the landscape or urban life. Reports on the outdoors, no matter where, look like they have become a part of our current attempts in art. This means that Barcellona, while her work clearly is a return to traditions established long ago, also takes part in the current renewal of art determined by natural conditions.
In the work of Lois Bender, nature is openly evident. Indeed, her work is entirely figurative, based on the outdoors: watercolors that close in on individual flowers, studies of extended natural views, with an emphasis on the cultivated garden. Her skill, readily apparent, enables her to work in a meaningful and attractive manner. A major part of her strength as an artist comes from the precise detail of her botanical forms, which exist on the paper as eloquent verisimilitude. Nature is a complex phenomenon–something we see in Bender’s art, for it demonstrates much more than an easy familiarity with flowers and meadows and trees. In her hands, the watercolors become luminous examples of her affection for, as well as her comprehension of, the particulars of the natural world. Her deliberately beautiful work constitutes an approach that we note with considerable enjoyment.
In the more recent paintings of Maggie Hinders, we see mostly single-figure studies, roughly painted, with simple abstract forms in the background. But there is also relatively new work, done in the last two years, which present what look like pixellated cartoon characters, along with abstract-expressionist effects. As with most of the artists seen in this exhibition, Hinders provides us with an amalgam of figuration and abstraction (for example, Bender’s forms may generally be taken from nature, but when they are isolated into smaller elements, they show an abstract indication, too). Hinders’ particular mix of nonobjective and recognizable elements moves from the amorphously expressed to the sharply detailed. In the newest paintings of individual women especially, the works contain as well mostly rounded simple shapes of, usually, a single color. These circular forms decorate and embellish the ground of the figure, providing them with an aura based on simplified shapes. In these paintings it is not hard to recognize the influence of Milton Avery, the twentieth-century artist who worked with non-complex figure-ground relations.
In the brightly colored abstract paintings of Diana Hobson, we find both geometric and curvilinear shapes–threads and patches–interacting with each other. Usually the threads are superimposed on the amorphous patches, originating a sharp contrast between the two, which forms the basis of the paintings. Colors are slightly muted, with reds and blues and oranges and greens mostly presiding. Her compositional sense is excellent, offering a mixture of thick and thin, the precise and the more general. Over time, the experience of these paintings reflects Hobson’s good sense of balance overall in a work of art. Thus, it happens that she establishes a consent between shapes we would not understand necessarily as matching. The forms and flatness of the paintings suggest an awareness of Stuart Davis, whose art came from a thorough knowledge of the French abstraction of the time. In a similar fashion, Hobson participates in a language that can most effectively be described as international and has often shown internationally. It is interesting that this kind of abstraction, originally a European, mostly French, invention, is so well established in American painting.
Lubliner’s metal weavings and other sculptures, made from re-purposed plastic
bottles, possess the formal advantages of an improvised esthetic and the
integrity of art constructed from used materials. Her work, a combination of an
Arte Povera esthetic and an American interest in the spontaneity of a Pop
outlook–at least in the plastic-bottle pieces–shows us as well an ongoing
interest in the creation of something attractive to look at. Metal woven
sculptures incorporate a close mesh into a simple, usually rectangular, design;
the plastic bottles are of an inevitably less complex design. She also makes
figures, either more or less abstract, from a wider range of materials, such
as concrete, newspaper, stoneware, and
cardboard tubes that address gender issues. The breadth of expression in her work stands as a strength; clearly, her art travels over a broad ground. This means that she easily embraces abstraction and figuration, moving between the two with unusual sympathy. We don’t see this much in a single artist today, but Lubliner’s art makes it clear she knows how to work both well.
Nancy Nikkal, based in the suburbs north of New York, works entirely within the realm of abstraction. Her curvilinear art uses a considerable amount of black, while other nonobjective artworks employ long, narrow triangles, used either vertically or horizontally, often in green or blue upon a field of white. This sort of abstraction belongs to a long history, established in the first third of the last century. She handles the idiom extremely well, in ways that not only reflect the past but also indicate how we might proceed in the future. Her art, the works with triangular forms especially, can be categorized as having been organized into series, with individual paintings demonstrating a close familiarity with what precedes and follows them. The idea of close fellowship with other works of art is something connected to recent art–think both of the abstract paintings by Rothko and the serial repetitions of Warhol. Nikkal also looks to formal reiterations in her very accomplished efforts.
To summarize: the art of these half-dozen women cannot be relegated entirely either to abstraction or figuration, which means that while their paintings do lean in one direction or another—Bender toward complete figuration, and Hobson toward pure abstraction, for example–the effects of their efforts cannot be determined as completely singular in one kind of art or another. Today, painting is most effective when it incorporates, eclectically, styles—we find art that exists between mediums is made stronger by differing combinations of expression. The six artists I have chosen reflect our current penchant for a work that exists between visual languages, just as, more generally speaking, much good art now rides between differing cultural influences. It must be said that this grouping illustrates very well our need to incorporate a variety of styles, and that this need is driven by our wish to bring to the surface the depths of the past, as well as find a contemporary visual language providing us with something new. Barcellona, Bender, and Hinders, and Hobson, Lubliner, and Nikkal, all do both more than well.
Painter/Photographer Marianne Barcellona grew up in Dallas and earned her B.S in Studio Art from Oberlin College in the late 60’s she moved to New York City and enjoyed a successful career as an editorial photographer, traveling the globe for major magazines, humanitarian and cultural organizations, and Fortune 500 corporations. In the late 1990’s she set aside her photography to earn a Certificate in Painting from The New York Studio School, and has managed dual careers since then. Barcellona’s extensive travels provide the raw inspiration for her paintings. Her work has been included in over 90 exhibitions, and she has been awarded fellowships at nine internationally-renowned artist residencies and given six Visiting Artist Master Classes to incoming Harvard Freshmen. She currently lives in Manhattan and maintains her studio in Long Island City.
Lois Bender, a graduate of Hunter college (BA) and Boston University (MFA), has been a creative director in commercial design. Her art practice juggles several subjects and themes. One focus has been the lush color of flowers—their spontaneity, gesture, personality and grace. It’s balanced by seeing the complexities, rhythms and lyricism throughout nature, specifically now in how water reflections on surfaces and the depths shift into abstractions and flowing distortions. The pond is like a mirror and eye that connects the sky to the earth. Mine is a cosmic and holistic view of the earth and nature and how we connect to it through art and culture. I like the place where reality and abstraction meet and all the liberties an artist can take. For me, the pond is a playground where art and nature mix in mesmerizing theatrical imagery. I like to express the poetic correspondences between nature and the human. I live and work in Manhattan and teach watercolor and general art classes in the Metro NY area and the Hamptons.
Maggie Hinders is a New York artist and designer. She moved to New York from Ohio where she studied painting at Xavier University and won a scholarship to study at the Cincinnati Art Academy. In New York she studied at Parsons, Hunter College, and the Art Students League. She recently curated and participated in the group show “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at the Westbeth Gallery in New York City. Hinders works primarily with oil and acrylic on canvas or panels. Her paintings, incorporating abstracted realism and figuration, describe the experience of simultaneously looking inward and outward from a vantage point on the border between self and other.
Born in NYC, Diana Hobson knew she was going to be an abstract artist by age 7. Having received a great art education in the city and from her schools, she planned to get an MFA from Yale, but life intervened and she landed on a cattle ranch in nowhere Texas. Fortunately, she learned trading in the stock market and was able to leave Texas for Los Angeles where she showed her artwork extensively while working as an LA real estate developer as well. This enabled her to move her art career to NYC where she now splits her time between LA and NYC. In college, she was influenced by the work of Faber Birren in using color to tell the stories in her paintings. Her paintings all start with a title and the lines within the paintings are like characters choreographed through colored areas much like a person in a novel having experiences.
Barbara Lubliner moves fluidly from performance art to works on paper to sculpture both large and small. She express ideas by transforming traditional and non-traditional materials into iconic and quirky objects and installations. In recent years, Lubliner’s public installations and studio work have involved repurposing castoffs and trash, transforming it into playful art, shifting the focus from environmental blight to creative production. Solo exhibitions include the Gibson Gallery Museum at SUNY Potsdam; Carter Burden Gallery, NYC; Drawing Rooms, Jersey City, NJ; and Pierro Gallery, South Orange, NJ. Recent group exhibitions include City Reliquary Museum, NYC; Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY; Edison Price Lighting Gallery, L.I.C., NY; and Ceres Gallery, NYC. Performance venues include the Brooklyn Museum and the Après Avant Garde Festival on the Staten Island Ferry.
Nikkal lives and works in Westchester County, NY and maintains a workspace at Media Loft, a converted industrial building in New Rochelle, NY. Her studio practice explores geometric abstraction, color relationships and shapes that touch. Two current series are titled Triangles and Curvy Geometric. See works at www.nikkal.com. Contact the artist at email@example.com. Studio visits are by appointment.
Jonathan Goodman studied English and German literature at Columbia University, followed by a stint at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked on medieval studies in the English department. For 35 years he has been writing about art for such publications as the Brooklyn Rail, Sculpture, and blogs in Beijing and Madrid. He specializes in sculpture and East Asian art. He is based in New York, where he teaches seminars in contemporary art at Pratt Institute.