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October 7, 2019

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Deborah Remington / Judy Chicago

Deborah Remington, Dorset, 1972, Oil on canvas, 91" x 87"

 

Deborah Remington was one of America's most enigmatic contemporary painters. Evolving out of Bay Area abstract expressionism, Remington had developed an inimitable and impossible-to-classify imagery, and technique to go with it, by time she moved to New York in the 1960s. Her forms are at once organic and geometric, erratic and heraldic, hard-edged and sensuous, gemlike and fleshy, seductive and frightening. Luminous, almost electric colors describe the finely wrought edges of large, empty spaces, each composition ultimately posing a single huge, weird, eternally metamorphosing form clearly composed of several interlocking, likewise elusive components. The centrality of these forms after the mid-1960s, each featuring a void as its prominent nucleus, led feminist aestheticians to identify her work as quintessentially woman-identified. Remington resisted this construction, not wanting her unstable, feverish imagery to be fixed by an essentialist interpretation; but she never rejected the interpretation outright. This helped make the juxtaposition of some of Remington's most compelling and important canvases from the '60s and '70s with some of Judy Chicago's most compelling and important canvases of the '80s so coherent - and yet so dramatic. The vaporous, super-charged glow that pervades Chicago's work from the 1980s, carried over from her better known work of the previous decade, also connects the two painters' oeuvres. But the descriptiveness and deliberate bombast of Chicago's often immense figurative statements are light years from the circumspection of Remington's images. The "PowerPlay" series allowed Chicago to exploit and improve upon the cartoonish neo-expressionism of Schnabel, Kostabi, the German Neue Wilde, and other heroes of the moment, turning their pretense at angst and anomie into actual sociopolitical statements, rife with actual anger and confusion. In depicting man's struggle to manifest aggression and maintain dominance over woman, Chicago was able to convey, even in the cruelest and most violent images, a sense of universal tragedy. Everybody loses, the "PowerPlay" paintings and studies insist, and men are as trapped in and diminished by their roles as women in and by theirs. (David Richard Gallery, 544 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe; www.davidrichardgallery.com)

 


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