by Elwyn Palmerton
Rebekah Goldstein’s paintings are snazzy, cool and eye-popping in a way that belies their intelligence. Their bright colors and bold compositions are immediately pleasing but trickier than they initially seem. Stylistically, they fall into an ambiguous territory between Constructivism and painterly abstraction. Willem de Kooning comes to mind, but so does Al Held, in particular his early black-and-white works. These artists took Cubist space, scaled it up, and accentuated its spatial paradoxes. However, Goldstein’s paintings are neither as wild as de Kooning’s nor as cerebral as Held’s. Despite firm grounding in art history, her work offers a fresh synthesis.
A good example is One of My Kind. The jumble of shapes feels like a puzzle that cannot be solved. It has no clear hierarchy of forms, only a sense of one thing carefully balanced against another, of shifting planes and contingent spatial relationships that make adjacent shapes appear to be simultaneously on top of and underneath each other.
Goldstein’s paint handling reinforces that effect. It leans toward jarring dichotomies: between semi-transparent and opaque, vigorously brushy and flat, fast and slow. These, however, dissolve upon closer inspection. “Hard” edges reveal traces of deliberate imperfection, over-painting and nuanced strokes. These apparent “flaws” – manifest in coolness pitted against impassioned self-possession – are what bring her work to life. Broad Shoulders, Sharp Tongue is another example. It features a large central area of wild brushwork hemmed in by geometric forms. The feel is of a dam that could burst.
Color plays a co-equal role. Most of Goldstein’s paintings are built
around a dominant range of hues, complimentary colors and neutral beige tones. The warm colors of Guilty Pleasure are generally subordinated to the crisp geometric composition; yet they also offer their own febrile intensity up for delectation, explicating the title.
The show also includes papier-mâché sculptures, most of which are small and arranged on counter-height pedestal. They echo the paintings in form and sensibility and give off a strange tension, owing to how heavily the material has been reworked to resemble styrofoam packing covered in repeating patterns and motifs. Squiggly brushstrokes on Lavender Stripe Pattern, for instance, are placed with a degree of improvisational freedom — but also with a keen
awareness of volumetric form. Such works exploit a kind of misalignment between the sculpted
form and the painted surface. Navy with Square Pattern achieves this with shapes that fragment and re-coalesce as you move around the sculpture. It surprises from every angle.
A passage that best illuminates Goldstein’s method can be found in the upper right-hand corner of a painting titled Watch Me When I Walk Away. Ostensibly a minor detail, this small rectangle is overlaid with scumbled pink-and-green pastels. It suggests a deep recession and asks: What if this tiny rectangle was really a window onto a whole
different field or an
expanse hidden just behind the surface? Near the lower left of the frame a couple of stray marks appear almost like blotchy accidents. These details and other odd flourishes suggest that Goldstein’s carefully crafted equilibrium could dissolve at any moment and transform into something else.
At a time when most abstract painting seems all too predictable, Goldstein offers a rigorous but open-ended approach that could go anywhere she chooses.
# # #
Rebekah Goldstein: Release Me @ Cult through December 10, 2016.
About the Author:
Elwyn Palmerton is an Oakland-based artist dealing in obsessive and improvisational abstract paintings. A New Jersey native, he received a B.A. from New York University and an M.F.A. from The School of Visual Arts. Since graduating he has exhibited regularly in New York City and Oakland. His writing has appeared in Frieze, Art Ltd., Artillery, Sculpture and Art Review.