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Ursula Schneider @ Braunstein/Quay

"March Hudson River", 2007, pigment and urethane on laminated nylon; 45 x 92”

Painter Ursula Schneider has made a career out of rendering the quotidian extraordinary, and in “The River”, her latest series of noctural waterscapes on view at the Braunstein/Quay Gallery through August 1, she continues to apply  a virtuoso technique to her surroundings, this time in upstate New York.  Working from photographs, Schneider paints the lights of a nuclear power plant reflecting on the Hudson River.  She blends a faux-naif style of representation with a loose, bio/geo kind of abstraction for an effect that falls just short of holographic.

This she achieves by mixing acrylic pigment with water-based urethane which she applies to sheets of nylon that are laminated in solid yet flexible surfaces. Like nylon stockings, her paintings have a sheer quality highlighted by shimmering moiré patterns that contrast with the paintings’ more opaque portions – places where the artist has applied thicker pigment directly on top of the mesh to delineate points of light, their reflections and the horizontal lines of the riverbank.  These elements more or less frame each picture.

“July Hudson River”, 2007, pigment and urethane on laminated nylon, 45 x 92”

In all, she presents six large-scale (45" x 92”) paintings and six small drawings, the latter of which are executed in Neocolor, a water-based crayon that resembles gouache, only more luminous and saturated.

In most of the larger works we see only the beaming lights and their reflections across the water, not the monolithic structure from which they emanate. The results are irregular grids composed of multi-colored lines whose rhythms deviate at odd, unpredictable intervals, like minimalist musical compositions. From a distance the grid predominates; but up close, those quivering  lines take precedence, and the associations they call forth include inverted exclamation points, minarets and popsicles.  

“December Hudson River”, 2007, pigment and urethane on laminated nylon; 45 x 92"

There is an obsessive, slightly haunting quality to Schneider’s symbolist-tinged work that is close in spirit to the naturalistic, visionary paintings of Peter Doig. Like Doig, Schneider induces a heightened state of awareness that can only be achieved through an acute sensitivity to one’s surroundings.  But what Doig does with frenzied surface activity, Schneider achieves with reflections — double images that simultaneously appear right side up and upside down.  They activate our neural impulse to separate the actual from the ephemeral.  Her drawings lean toward the latter; they bend the grid and sometimes dispense with it altogether, as in “Sketch 8” and “Sketch 9”, both of which are composed of stacked horizontal bands.Schneider may not be the first artist to be mesmerized by the play of light on water – Albert Pinkham Ryder did it most famously – but she is among the few who, in addition to Ryder, have figured out a way to animate it without relying on conventional illusionist techniques. 

“Sketch #9”, and “Sketch #7”, (both 2008), Neocolor on archival paper, 8 x 13” and 6.5 x 10”

However significant her material inventions, it’s the cool sense of remove, the sense you get of watching yourself watch something else, that makes Schneider ‘s painting compelling.  As the artist once wrote about a body of work based on images recorded in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “It’s like an animal observing you, but you have not seen it yet.”
–David M. Roth
Ursula Scheider’s “The River”, through August 1, 2009 at the Braunstein/Quay Gallery.


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