Mind’s Eye/Sense Certainty Series, the latest offering from Ruth Pastine, turns the human body into a tuning fork. That sensation, familiar to her followers, comes from seamless color gradients applied to beveled canvases that extend out from the wall several inches. The distance makes it appear as if the imagery – vertical color bands – is suspended in space and backlit. There are no visible edges, only radiant, saturated hues that dissolve into each another imperceptibly, creating vibratory fields that, owing to flawless paint application, flirt with Finish Fetish. Pastine, however, remains more closely aligned with the SoCal-based Light and Space movement – but with two important distinctions. First, she is a generation removed from the movement’s beginnings. Second, unlike the originators (e.g. Peter Alexander, Craig Kauffman and John McCracken) who used synthetic and industrial materials to manipulate light, Pastine does it with oil on canvas.
The liminal effects she conjures are akin to those we see when looking at the ocean, where shifting atmospheric conditions confound our perception of color. Pastine turns this aspect of human vision into something numinous and makes it her subject. Only instead of presenting it monochromatically as she has in the past, she launches a full-on retinal seduction, employing bold hues that bring to mind what Mark Rothko might have created had he adopted a Caribbean palette. To those who reject beauty out of hand and question the purity of intent that drives such efforts, Pastine offers a potent rebuke: an experience that is palpably real.
Three of the six major canvases in the show are based on precise modulations of different shades of blue: royal, Persian, powder, sapphire, ultramarine, midnight, navy, Yves Klein, denim and many others. They blend together as you scan the paintings side-to-side. Though similarly conceived, each work delivers its own unique chromatic epiphany, one in which individual “notes” sound only to be quickly subsumed into an “orchestral” whole. What’s peculiar, and perhaps unique to Pastine, is how they resonate. Her blue paintings,
for example, do so at a cerebral rather than a bodily level, owing, perhaps, to the large nook in which they’re displayed. It concentrates the paintings’ energies in a kind of feedback loop that, like the music Steve Reich and Philip Glass, sets the mind thrumming.
The remaining three paintings are built around bands of molten-lava orange flanked by purple, pink and fuchsia. They produce a more bodily response. That, too, may be a function of the space in which they appear. Two are stationed on the gallery’s longest wall, while a third, Red Green, 4-V6032 (Red Magenta), Sense Certainty Series, hangs alone on the back wall. It’s a vertical painting and the only one of the series to depart from a square format. Give it a long look and you may feel, as I did, that the column at the center is moving in and out in unison with your breathing. It seemed uncanny, yet repeated viewings yielded the same result.
Without reflective surfaces, plastics or resins, Pastine makes paintings that turn the gallery into a vivid sensorium.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Ruth Pastine: Mind’s Eye/Sense Certainty Series @ Brian Gross Fine Art through October 25, 2014.