Liz Gargas and Brent Ridge at the New Art Center in Newton, Mass.

March 4 - April 10, 2016

Brent Ridge, (G)ravine, 2015
Brent Ridge, (G)ravine, 2015

In a two-person show I look for what connects the painters. Well, actually, I am always looking for connections between painters (as well as ideas I might use myself) because for the most part, these days, painters work alone and don’t often confess to sharing ideas with their contemporaries. Still, it’s a dialogue, right?

In this show, the curator has made a very subtle choice of two painters who diffuse focus and make the viewer work to see their paintings as a coherent whole. Whether this is the main intention or whether it’s a byproduct of more pressing interests is not completely clear. To what degree and by what means and why artists control and direct the viewer’s attention is an endlessly fascinating source of interest for me.

To “pull it together,” as Ridge put it, by which I think he means their works (which are very different in every way except the one I mentioned) as well as to balance this diffused focus of the individual paintings, the artists got together and did a very funny thing. They bought a cheap rug, impregnated it with gallons of gray paint, cut it into an oval and laid it out in the center of the gallery where it looks like a normal rug, but then again, not.

Liz Gargas, for when, 2016
Liz Gargas, for when, 2016

A photograph often improves a painting by making it smaller, more focused and framed but in this case it misses the point entirely because it doesn’t show the way the composition of for when is slip-sliding away down the right hand corner, barely held in place by a little beaded mat. The brushwork and certain compositional aspects of for when are reminiscent of Kandinsky in the period when he was moving away from figuration and towards abstraction.

Kandinsky Composition IV 1911
Kandinsky, Composition IV, 1911

Gargas is going in the other direction, though, which btw is an approach I find completely valid, even necessary. Interestingly, I tend to focus on the figurative elements individually and consecutively and have to consciously step back to see them in the context of the whole. Generally speaking, the mythic or iconic imagery in her paintings seems forced but her engagement with the natural world has a free and easy feeling.

In Ridge’s work, areas of painterly experimentation take over and completely capture my attention—the man loves paint in all its many forms! Nobody told him they don’t go together, don’t make a picture plus he doesn’t seem give a damn whether a painting is abstract or figurative, or whether it looks anything like the painting hanging next to it. It’s not an artifice—ideas just bubble up naturally through the paint for him.

(G)ravine is divided into three sections: a painted-on patterned fabric diagonals in from the left, dry brushstrokes sweep in and frame the right, and in the middle, a textured shiny black silver V-shape. There is no reason for it to become an abyss; I’m afraid of The Black Abyss, there’s nothing to hold on to on the right so I cling to the almost-gaily painted patterned material. This strikes me as so absurd that I laugh. Silliness I Take Seriously is my frequent response to his work.

I’ve been following Ridge’s work for years and am a connoisseur. In some cases he just works out brief thoughts that don’t quite seem enough for a painting:

Brent Ridge, Untitled (BR15-104), 2015
Brent Ridge, Untitled (BR15-104), 2015

Like this one that is a painted thought. It suggests grapes, or an ironwork trellis. It may very likely show up in another more complex painting in a more painstaking way or as a looser underpainting or not at all. – CNQ

More and better examples of Liz Gargas work can be found at:

And Brent Ridge’s work at:

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