Barbara Laube and the Final Frontier

Michael David Gallery, October 20 - November 12, 2023 "Rhythm of Twilight"

“Feeling Fall 2” (2023) 8” x 10”

From the invitation card (and I was not familiar with Laube’s work before), I expected something larger and lusher. So, it took a minute to get over my expectations…

Guy Godwin, “Chicken Finger Palace” (2014) 76.5” x 92.75”

(Some wit put Guy Goodwin and Barbara Laube together, by the way. They could not be more different; Goodwin’s work is bold, large, molded and direct, in blocks of primary and pastel, and Laube’s is small, handmade and exploratory.)

But “here we are,” as I often say these days and then I started to see the paintings. They are all different and all are  experiments in creating deep space, which is also called picture space and not to be confused with pictorial space which is concerned with shapes and space interacting on a flat surface with no implied depth.
Looking at Laube’s earlier work, which was painted on irregularly shaped unstretched hanging fluttering canvas, I would guess she is directly tackling what she was avoiding before: composing to the rectangle. It may seem counterintuitive but the straight-edged format seems to be the most invisible frame.

“Psyche” (2023) 8” x 10”

If I had only seen one of Laube’s paintings, like say Psyche, I would have thought it was typical of an artist who works with gridded areas of color and in fact many of her paintings have grids in either major or minor roles. If I had seen only Psyche and Feeling Fall I might have been confused or thought she was exploring genres of abstract painting—and she is, but after looking at the whole show, I think she is investigating how to define space in what really still is the aftermath of the abstract/figurative split that divided the art world so exaggeratedly for so boringly long.

Adam Simon in writing about Marcy Rosenblatt* has described “the rich terrain of indeterminacy that results when artwork hovers between abstraction and figuration.” This would apply to Laube’s work as well and why it is a “rich terrain” is because of the way our brains work.
It has been discovered though that more than 50% of the cortex is devoted to processing visual information.* 50%! Btw, this is not at all like storing snapshots. Some part of it lies in determining how near or far we are from the objects we see—we have to move through them safely. I suppose AI will become good at recognizing things with all this work of naming objects that humans are pouring into it, and if you think seeing is about recognizing objects and painting is about painting objects, then AI painting and art criticism will be right up your alley.

A neighbor on our block was held up by two gun-waving youths at noon a couple of weeks ago. “In broad daylight” as people kept saying and that’s important because it was not twilight or midnight and yet when the police showed him pictures of possible suspects, he didn’t feel he could recognize them beyond a reasonable doubt. What was he seeing during the robbery? I don’t think he was literally blinded by fear; I think he was seeing other things, like whether his actions (throwing up his hands, then getting his wallet) were having a calming effect. Possibly, the expressions on the boys’ faces were more important than their shapes. Or he might have been looking at the sunlight glinting on the leaves of a beautiful ornamental cherry where he got robbed and thinking he did not want to die just yet.


“Fire and Rain” (2023) 9” x 12”

That’s why that “rich terrain” is more realistic than any surveillance photograph or idea of realism in painting.
In the context of this show, Fire and Rain is not a color field painting. It very subtly establishes a foreground that recedes and an advancing shimmer of light. The “figures” at the bottom may actually be coming toward us or walking away.

“Downpour” (2023) 11” x 14”

Downpour is relatively photographic in the amount of information it is offering!
The right center recedes into deep space and we might be seeing a parade coming down an alley. Or I mean, I might be seeing that because I am actively participating—I am seeing myself see. The black strip on the top of the painting is closer and the black splash on the right is closer yet. That black splash might also be part of a chicken costume. The figure at the center might be a child.

I think the questions these paintings ask is, “If we are to move away from pure abstraction and reconquer figuration and spatial depth in painting, how little or how much can or should we do?

It’s funny that I didn’t take a picture of one of the paintings (because I didn’t think it was as good as some of the others) that has resonated in my mind since I saw the show. It was a light painting divided into two washes that were like dot screens and one of the areas seemed slightly closer than the other. If you see the show, you might look out for that one.


*Marcy Rosenblat’s exquisite balance

** The Mind’s Eye by Susan Hagen

Marcy Rosenblat’s exquisite balance