At the Galleries
by Karen Wilken
“Uncanny, obsessive, and stubborn” could also be applied to the seductive works in “Tilled Fields: Drawings by Harry Roseman,” at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College. Roseman is a painter, draftsman, sculptor, public artist, object maker, conceptual artist, and photographer—and I’m probably leaving something out—so “Tilled Fields” presented only a narrow slice of his activity. Yet the exhibition, spanning about thirty years, in two sections dealing, respectively, with recent and older works in a variety of mediums, also illuminated constants in Roseman’s efforts, among them meticulousness, a fascination with materials, alertness to the phenomena of actuality and to the importance of nuance. The Weave drawings from the 1980s and 1990s are disquisitions on an interlaced grid, like a fictive warp and weft, frayed, warped, compressed, and influenced in different ways by the edge of the paper. The expanses undulate and pulse, evoking the fluidity of cloth, a relationship made explicit by hanging cloth sculptures covered with illusionistic “weaving,” and by the astonishing Bolt, an endless length of muslin to which Roseman has been adding weave patterns, in subtly related colors and subtly varied densities and scales, at intervals since 1989. The more recent drawings, equally labor intensive and demanding of concentration and a steady hand, ring changes on sinuous, concentric lines in configurations ranging from all-over “fields” to repeated clusters. Some pools of lines center on blots or patches that generate surprising shapes, as the lines accumulate and expand. Others seem to invent themselves. They all have a refreshing sense of discovery, a refusal to preconceive. They seem to spring from a desire to court the unexpected: “What will happen if I do this?” The resulting images trigger myriad associations with topography, agriculture, ritual, the microcosm, and the macrocosm, among many other things. It’s tempting to think of Roseman’s making these beautiful, compelling objects as a kind of meditation. So is the focused attention they demand (and reward) from the viewer.
Following the Vassar exhibition, “Harry Roseman: The Fine Art of Getting Lost, Sculpture and Works on Paper,” at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, New York, expanded our understanding of the artist’s preoccupations. Drawings made between 2016 and 2021were testimony to the apparently inexhaustible possibilities of repetitive improvisation with blots and concentric lines announced at Vassar. Wall-mounted Folded Plywood reliefs confounded our associations with this familiar material. Roseman treats quarter-inch plywood like paper, folding and overlapping it to make elegant geometric, impossibly thin objects. A series of small “hanging” shapes, made with eighth-inch plywood, further tested our perceptions with flattened, frozen versions of the hanging cloth Weave sculptures, with wood grain substituting for brush marks. Draped Plywood 2 (2016), a sagging curtain of fictive wood grain painted on Belgian linen, compounded the confusion. Spend enough time with Roseman’s eye-testing works in any material, and we begin to see the things around us in unexpected ways.
Elsewhere in Pamela Salisbury Gallery, “Kim Uchiyama: Interludes” showcased recent canvases continuing the artist’s exploration of the expressive possibilities of order, geometry, interval, and associative hues. Uchiyama has looked hard at classical temples and internalized their proportions so thoroughly that they seem to inform all of her paintings, which distill her awareness of the world around her into broad bands of color, spaced vertically at intervals. Uchiyama often plays on the way we involuntarily interpret earth colors, greens, and blues, however minimally presented, as metaphors for land, vegetation, sea, and sky—composing variations on sequences of nuanced ochers, ultramarines, ceruleans, olives, and other resonant, impure hues, and deploying them in unexpected relationships. In her recent works, color and touch have broken loose. Unnamable greens are loosely brushed over elusive mauves. A glowing tawny band stretches below, while a luminous pale blue levitates toward the top or vice versa. The rarified suggestions of landscape still make themselves felt, but there is a new declaration of the painter’s will and presence that enhances the image. We are encouraged to think not only about allusion, however oblique, but also about the making of the painting. I’ve followed Uchiyama’s work for some time, so I feel confident about saying that the works in “Interludes” are among her strongest and most achieved to date.