The Brooklyn Rail — “Don Voisine: Time Out”


Don Voisine, Spectre, 2014, oil on wood panel, 24 x 22 inches

There is little doubt that the sports-adjacent title—Time Out—of Don Voisine’s current exhibition at Pamela Salisbury Gallery in Hudson, New York carries a certain resonance. Upon discovering that his Sharpe-Walentas studio in Dumbo was suddenly off limits in March 2020, Voisine was forced to continue painting in quarantine at his home studio. Working for the most part on a tabletop, Voisine focused on painting smaller works in a style he had previously perfected. Despite the scale limitation of about 16 inches, his ongoing commitment to geometric form remained assiduously cohesive. The complexity of forms found in previous exhibitions was mentally in place, held ready for Voisine to make the next move. “Time out” would not constitute time away from painting. Rather it meant a serious re-adjustment: the paintings produced during the peak of COVID-19 in New York would come from another environment, namely a living environment.

Like, for example, the late Thomas Nozkowski, Voisine has previously been a touchstone for discussions of small-scale abstraction. While the approaches these two painters take to abstraction exist at opposite ends of the spectrum that runs from classical form to palpable gesture, they are both committed to creating paintings that are generally designated for the kind of living environments that their followers found conducive to “New York life”—that is, living happily and meaningfully in close quarters. While this notion has fallen out of favor in recent years as a more popular and carelessly expansive idea of space settled into vogue, I would have to agree with Voisine’s alternative attitude, and his conviction that scale could be a subtle means to offset the way we think about our presence in today’s world.

In general, Voisine’s paintings range from being small to medium, and, on other occasions, medium to medium-large. Throughout, he retains a feeling for scale that does not usurp the presence of the singular viewer. The artist’s point of view is not to overwhelm our perceptions, but rather to focus our attention within the frame, allowing his hard-edge rectangles, triangles, trapezoids, and parallelograms, painted on quadrilateral and rectilinear surfaces, to engage in optical effects of motion. One might say that Voisine is interested in forms that mitigate stasis. This came most forcefully into his work when the artist began working with diagonal forms in 2004. In comparison to the Constructivist model of, for example, László Moholy-Nagy, the diagonal line in paintings like Voisine’s serves as the illusory basis of motion.

Although the artist normally paints on wooden panels, the current exhibition has several small works painted on 300 pound Arches watercolor paper, all untitledThey were created in Voisine’s home quarantine studio in 2020. Five of these were painted with oil and three use oil in combination with acrylic. Six of them are quadrilateral, while two depart from a rectangular format. In addition, Voisine painted two oils on square wood panels: Lipstick Traces (2020) and The Morning After (2020). All of these works measure less than a foot square, and the formal shapes in these miniature paintings are consistent with Voisine’s characteristic approach to geometry.

The layering of paint in the two works on panel, regardless of their scale, is as intricate as the complex experience of discovering how to fit rectilinear forms into and against one another. For example, The Morning After is a square painting that relates color and shape to linear measurement. With matching symmetrical bands in dark cerulean running across the top and bottom, the two larger upright asymmetrical forms claim the central place in what might be called “the composition.” The dark glossy black on the left side contains a scumbled white wedge that cuts diagonally half-way across the painting. On the right is a partially scumbled white rectangle on matte black. Dividing the dark cerulean bands from the two black blocks where the dynamic of the white wedge meets the white rectangle, one may note two very thin green lines—an important element that anchors the entire painting. Every aspect of this work is deftly accounted for. Nothing can be subtracted. Despite its modest scale, everything has its place.

The second of these two paintings, titled Lipstick Traces, is similar to the first, even as the bright cadmiums of its palette create a more outward-looking mood. The proportions of the symmetrical bands, upper and lower, are precisely the same as in The Morning After, except for the fact that a creamy white color replaces the dark cerulean. The white wedge on the left of the two central blocks is virtually the same as what we see in The Morning After, except there is no scumbling. Two wedges also appear at the top and bottom of the right block, which offers a slightly different mood than the rectangle employed in the other painting. The two thin green lines from The Morning After also appear in the same locations in Lipstick Traces between the upper and lower symmetrical bands. Finally, one may suspect a connection between these two paintings not only in terms of their relatively complex internal structure, but also in their titles. Together, The Morning After and Lipstick Traces suggest an erotic culmination of some sort that would be difficult to decipher beyond the fundamental playfulness of their forms. This is an aspect of Don Voisine’s geometric paintings that is very much worth discovering.

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