From Da Vinci to Picasso to Hockney, shifts in perspective have long reflected changes in how technology enables us to see. Non-Objective painting (and later Abstract Expressionism), with their focus on matters of the spirit, seem to have flown right past the immediate environs of their creators, thereby sidestepping any significant reimagining of urban and architectural space. LA painter Yvette Gellis seeks to alter that by using the outward trappings of Abstract Expressionism to forge new possibilities.
She builds paintings atop quavering lines rendered in cake-frosting whites, leafy greens and coal blacks. Some of the lines are thinly painted. Others are thick and bathed in gauzy highlights, as if dusted in fog. There are also plenty of bold gestures: black geometric slabs, gyroscopic squiggles and creamy arabesques. They converge to suggest aerial views of cities and traffic snarls, inspired by a recent sojourn in Paris. Gellis also includes recognizable objects, and the tension between those static forms and the muscular gestures animating them makes for some intriguing spatial dislocations.
A key example is a Mount Tilly, a seventeen and a half foot-long canvas that depicts views of a palace seen through French windows and occluded, on either side, by dark shadow forms and bursts of glare. It reads like a triptych, with each part corresponding to a different, yet indeterminate viewpoint. Better still is the trio of paintings from the Standing on a Corner series. Each contains a form resembling a marble casket; flanking it are propeller-like swirls, wispy arches, pale washes and rugged vectors –forms that somehow lighten the weight of it, while encouraging navigation of the territory around it. While these works reveal the influence of Hofmann, Richter, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell and many others, they do so without falling under their weight.
Where the show stumbles is when Gellis, in an attempt to ally herself with the Space and Light movement, imposes reflective and/or transparent surfaces onto (or above) her canvases. They are, one would hope, anomalies because everything else in the exhibit points to how well she evokes space and light the old-fashioned way: by manipulating paint all by itself.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Yvette Gellis @ Toomey Tourell through March 31, 2015.