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FEBRUARY 22, 2012

Singular Journeys

John Goodrich

With her current show at Bowery Gallery, Deborah Rosenthal continues to infuse a highly personal approach with intimations of the mythic. Stylistically, the artist’s abstracted paintings have always recalled for me Robert Delaunay’s in their melodic, organic overlapping of planes of vivid color. (As a fellow Bowery Gallery artist, I’ve had the opportunity of observing it up close for a number of years.) But her goals seem quite different—closer in spirit to Kandinsky or Rouault in their transcendental longings. Her latest showing of nearly twenty paintings, depicting wayfarers and abstracted landscapes, not only depict but personify journeys of the soul.

The word “journey,” in fact, appears in the titles of a number of smaller canvases featuring pictographic stick figures in generalized landscapes of yellow, orange/ochre and slate-grays. Fine networks of lines define these spaces, turning portions of canvas into receding plains, mountain ranges, and suggestions of trees and streams. Animating the paintings is the recurrent theme of a figure reclining across the bottom of a vertical format, with a second figure striding energetically above. These images balance the serene and the charged, the ingenuous and the fateful. In “Winter Journey II” (2010), the form enclosing the recumbent figure could be either a tomb or a protective shelter—or possibly both.

A series of larger paintings delves more deeply into abstracted landscape spaces. These have a less pictographic touch, with lines serving as the contours between pulsing colors that shape hills, sky, and sometimes distant buildings. Against these broad movements, specific incidents stand out. The title of one canvas, which locates two small figures and a boat-like structure beneath billowing facets of color, tells us the painting is a homage to Claude Lorrain—and indeed, the lightest notes, shining between passages of violet-gray and subdued yellowish-green, suggest one of his vibrant harbor scenes. In “On the Earth (Adam and Eve)” (2010), two figures firmly anchor a foreground zone of subdued purple; tiers of bluish-green and blue-violet stretch above, culminating in a distant, wing-like spreading of forms.   

But such references—to specific events, and to artistic precedence—prove unnecessary in “Rain in the Mountains” (2011). Here, punctuated by just a few points of turquoise-blue, planes of slate gray and earthy red-brown shift momentously before the eye in a somber dance. Are they sheets of rain, or dampened mountain sides? It makes no difference. The painting resonates with the workings of nature—grave, luminous, and inescapable.

Deborah Rosenthal: Journeys and Topologies
Through February 25. Bowery Gallery, 530 W. 25th St., 646-230-6655,

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