Since 2009, Robin Kandel has been making paintings about water, specifically about the play of light and wind across shifting surfaces. Having grown up near the Great Lakes, this is a subject she knows intimately. For some people, this kind of acute observation is akin to watching paint dry. For others it’s visual catnip. If you are among the latter group, Kandel’s latest series, lakewater, will be of intense interest.
In her attempt to concretize something so ephemeral, Kandel takes an eminently reasonable approach. She makes field paintings which typically show a microcosm to reveal the essential quality of something bigger. In the case of reflections on water, it doesn’t matter how long or how hard you look, they are not phenomena that can be easily captured. This presents a tough problem for any artist, particularly a painter. Kandel, who’s previously worked with sculpture, video and installation, solves it by making paintings that appear to move. They do so anamorphically, via moiré patterns that change according to where you stand. Side-to-side movements unfold dynamically in fresh views, each shifting and shimmering the way water does when struck by light and wind. Up-close, the pictures set off a peripheral-vision buzz, like what we see when looking at classic examples of Op Art, only not nearly as jarring.
Irregular, brushed-against-straight-edge lines and the extreme distillation of visual information in these paintings suggest the respective influences of geometric abstraction and photography. You can also see in Kandel’s transmutation of light into pattern, a connection to Native American textiles, although that is probably an unintended byproduct. (The 11 acrylic-on-panel works in this show range in size from 48” x 36” to 72” x 60”.) The artist constructs them from slender, broken-up horizontal bands rendered in tinted monotones — all carefully modulated in length, color and width — to create the illusion of deep shadows and glaring highlights. The vantage points are completely ambiguous.
While there are strong similarities among the works, no two are alike. In fact, the longer you look, the more the individual differences become apparent. Just as wind churns areas of a lake at different “speeds”, so, too, do the variations in line within each of these pictures. While the illusions are engaging, their most remarkable feature may be how they reverse the natural order of things. Where outdoors, the effect of weather on water is a force beyond our control, Kandel’s soft-core Op paintings hand control back to you. You can change their behavior by simply circumnavigating them. While Kandel hasn’t introduced the idea of interactivity into painting – the original Op and Light and Space artists did that — she’s clearly extending those traditions.
–DAVID M. ROTH
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Robin Kandel, “lakewater” @ Andrea Schwartz Gallery through February 24, 2012.