Rebekah Goldstein’s paintings tell stories. I don’t mean to say that they’re narrative because they are not. Still, hidden in the many layers of paint that cover these idiosyncratically shaped canvases are histories of intuitive action and reaction. Whether in the angled illusions of depth created by vigorously brushed areas of color accented with lines of black or in the trompe l’oeil “holes” that turn out to be areas she has painted the white of gallery or studio walls, it’s not hard to find the traces of those previous gestures — in lips of color that remain on edges, palimpsest-ghosts that show through transparent hues, or areas of textured brushstrokes now covered with a single flat hue. These nonlinear stories are as abstract as the paintings themselves. As the artist puts it, they are cycles of repetition, return and transformation.
To establish the shape each painting will take, Goldstein first makes a sketch in blue tape on her studio wall. Many of these outlined forms incorporate her personal interpretation of a figure’s pose in a historical work — whether painting or sculpture– while others are based on hand gestures, such as an upturned thumb. (In the catalog accompanying the show, she offers a sort of Cliff’s Notes regarding these origins, but consulting it isn’t necessary. It’s engaging to try to guess whether a shape comes from a folded hand or a body in repose.)
The shape outlined in blue tape becomes a cardboard template that goes to her stretcher maker. That, however, is the end of premeditation. When Goldstein finishes priming each canvas and begins to paint, she does so without sketches or plans, relying solely on her intuitive response to the form itself. Over time, that leads to multiple layers of color and form, gesture and dimension, as she works towards a resolution. Considering this seat-of-the-pants, two-steps- forward-and-one-back, labor-intensive process, it’s even more remarkable that the result is so poised and crisp. The paintings hung on the walls of Cult’s current home in Fuseproject, with its tall walls, high ceiling and beautiful natural light, exude an assured effortlessness in various shades of pistachio green, violet purple and earthy tones of ochre, sienna and orange.
All the work in this show was made over the past two years, a period framed by the pandemic and its concomitant shutdowns and shut-ins. Two years also represents the interval since Goldstein gave birth to her son. She began working on shaped canvases after her daughter was born four years ago and avered a direct connection between abandoning the rectangle and her experiences of the changing shape of her body.
This shift may also have had something to do with the tabletop-sized sculptures Goldstein has been making since 2014. A good look at the lively display of these multimedia pieces included in this show– there are nine of them– suggests a closer connection between objects and paintings now that the latter have assumed the same unique and surprising shapes as the former. Still, the canvases are freed from the constraints of gravity. This makes it possible for them to be both more surprising and more complex than the sculptures have (as of yet) succeeded in becoming.
Throughout the exhibition, there is a tension between a sense of resolution and self-defined containment — seemingly, Goldstein’s goal — and the suggestion of something about to break loose in a mysterious collision. Crawling Back to You has three sections of deep pink along the painting’s right edges that seem like they might be part of an invading form. The uppermost of the three areas seem to curve sharply down into the painting’s space — creating one of Goldstein’s signature illusions of open pages. In Chasing My Tail, a strip of cherry red boldly opens the painting up like a big book, from right to left. Looking at it, I wondered if she was asking us to reconsider the
whole idea of paintings as windows: of how much such an idea depends on the viewer’s willingness to play along. In Play it Once Again, Play it All Night Long, it looks as though she has flipped up the bottom left edge — visually dogearing the corner of the painting before balancing multiple elements of black and white, bright color and more somber shades, creating an almost perfect equilibrium. .
The show’s title is Welcome Home Stranger, though it isn’t clear who (or what) that unknown is. For women who give birth, the body’s transformation into a single-minded vehicle for the all-consuming job of nurturing can certainly feel like being possessed by an alien life form. And then there are those children whose identities emerge only over time. But the most important strangers here are Goldstein’s paintings. They begin, almost literally, as tabula rasa — blank slates, developed in a dogged long-distance slog of repeated revision: manipulating paint, color, and shapes until they finally make themselves known.
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Rebekah Goldstein: “Welcome Home Stranger” @ CULT/Aimee Friberg Exhibitions to May 7, 2022.
About the author:
Maria Porges is an artist and writer who lives and works in Oakland. Since the late ‘80s, her critical writing has appeared in many publications, including Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, American Craft, Glass, the New York Times Book Review and many now-defunct sites or magazines. The author of more than 100 exhibition catalog essays, she is a professor at California College of the Arts.