55 Mercer Street Gallery

It once seemed important for minimalist-informed painting to reject suggestions of the world beyond its own concrete borders. The gallery was a white-walled questioning room and the abstract painter a Zen Joe Friday, whose paintings would repeat “just the facts, ma’am” like a koan. But the fixed boundaries tend to bleed from exposure to the weathering effects of history. Sharon Gold is one of a number of abstract painters, ostensibly from the “hard” geometric wing, who’ve moved to open up the expressionistic possibilities of their imagery.

To attempt to fix a point when the associative sensibility overtook the empiricism of geometric painting would be like trying to net a phantom. Even Stella’s black paintings of 1959, the progenitors of the die-cut blankness of the painting verité to follow, possessed a troubled romantic spirit. Gold’s own black paintings of a few years ago were clearly within this somber, iconic tradition, a tradition expanded (if that is the right word) by Brice Marden’s obsessively dense paintings. Gold’s imagery might have been reductively geometric, but her surfaces were (and continue to be) worked and scraped to the point where a contrast was established between idealized compositions and the worry and struggle of process.

The main differences between Gold’s work then and now are that she’s drawing more within the boundaries of her interlocking planes, there’s movement to the planes themselves (they’re not as locked into the rectangle of the canvas, even if they remain parallel to it), and there’s a wider color range. Her marks used to be, as she has written, “a consequence of putting paint down on a surface.” They’re grown into lyrical gestures that resonate with the natural landscape and the figure.

Gold’s increasing use of higher key colors and spatial illusionism, along with her freer drawing, are indicative of a change of attitude in contemporary abstract painting in general. By staking out a territory where geometric order coexists with more spontaneous and associative imagery, Gold is proving herself exemplary among those striving to redefine planar abstraction as an inclusive rather than a reductive art.

Stephen Westfall

November 1984