Engagement as a Destination
In the Realm at Cerulean Arts Gallery presents the paintings of Brian Boutwell and Tom Csaszar. These relatively smooth paintings are dense with materials making their surfaces feel like skins on a frame. But the change of colors and loose geometry of the shapes invites the viewer to see each painting as a Realm of its own and a perception of lived experience.
For example, in Bounce, an extremely symmetrical composition, Boutwell stacks diminishing sized rectangles in the center of a vertical canvas. Starting at bottom, a pink rectangle with a green stripe, next a dark blue rectangle with a red stripe, culminates in an yellow-orange
variegated rectangle that almost touches the top. On either side of these boxes are similar areas of color— orange at base, light blue in the middle, then a creamy white at the crown. Hovering just along this top edge is a greenish stripe. On the one hand, the middle figures should create a figure/ground proposition, especially since these rectangles have a contrasting outline to them. Yet it doesn’t. One reason is the balance of warm and cool colors—the bottom area is all warm, the middle all cool. There is true contrast in value going on here in that the center is held by a dark void while the rest of the canvas is mid-toned and light. But the real discriminating factor occupies the top of the canvas—the white area with the yellow-orange “window”. I say window because the yellow-orange shape is loosely painted, not quite as defined as the other shapes. This reminds me of the paintings of Mark Rothko, and like Rothko’s artwork, stands as a luminous expanse that spreads across the solid wholeness of the rest of the piece. I think of a room, a church with a large open door at the back that allows air and light to come in.
Tom Csaszar’s painting Room of Revisions has some similar elements. It, too, is organized in two parts along a center axis. But rather than right-left as in Boutwell’s Bounce, this is top
verses bottom. The bottom is composed of a series of stripes that remind me of planks to a wood floor. The brushwork and color of each stripe/plank can change and often it seems like there is wet-on-wet painting murked-up by brushwork direction or addition of another color. About halfway up the canvas a light blue cloud or plantlike shape interferes and above this the distinguished shapes appear to move more vertically, although many seem to be rectangular. Once again I feel as though I am standing in a church, moving from the foreground down an aisle of pews to a background containing an open door and a window.
So far I have described “realms” that to me feel like rooms I have entered. In other pieces
the realms pictured are worlds of their own intrinsic logic. In Ajar Brian Boutwell has designed a multi-leafed pinwheel of red, yellow, and violet blades in the center of his world. A thicker, greenish shape connects to the left side but feels pushed back by the red blade. Light blue, on the right, plays an important role. In the foreground, that is the bottom, the rectangular shape narrows to create a pathway toward and into the center of the painting. At the top, this same color cuts through to make an obstruction, a layer in front of the red and the yellow blades. With darker blues attached to this lighter blue I feel like I am in a whirligig of color, inviting me to push in while disallowing me to enter.
Tom Csazar’s Measured Dissent also plays with layers of color and figure/ground. In looking
at this work I think of Franz Kline. Broad strokes of paint go from sharp edges to softer edges confusing which is to be read as positive (figure) and negative (background). As my eye travels around, feeling its way for my position withing this painting, I am suddenly hit by a blast of white paint, like being struck by a water cannon, that pushes me back off the canvas.
These colorful works have great decorative quality as well as intellectual heft in the way they allow pigment relationships, shapes, and materials to create states that lead you to question the possibilities of art and of experience. Although this exhibition is over by October 27th, I encourage readers to view the images of artwork for In the Realm on Cerulean Arts web site at https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/in-the-realm . Even better, check out the Artists’ Talk from October 19th below. And, sign up for a critique with Tom Csaszar on November 2nd at Cerulean Arts!