"Freeform 5" at Elga Wimmer PCC, New York, October 7-November 18, 2017


Idiosyncrasy is the hallmark of the creative individual, who not only refuses to be limited by critical bias or historical convention, but remains devoted to the idea that drove them in the first place, no matter where it first originated. One can see in the artists of Free Form Five, curated by D. Dominick Lombardi, a dedication to the rigor of their craft. One is easily drawn toward their individual aesthetic world views, which in  a group format, proves a strong impulse constantly evading easy definition. Each of the artists participating in this exhibition has a long established practice of maintaining a level of order that evolves their vision and simultaneously critiques a main convention of art. New histories emerge from their work to qualify and inform future generations.

As a photographer who chooses to eschew the human as a subject, Sandra Gottlieb turns instead to nature though not in any decorative or pedestrian fashion. Her relationship to nature as a photographic medium finds easy access to wonder via an openness to chance and to the powerful forms that present themselves in oceanic tides or smoke swirling up from a fire. Her current series, represented here by a narrative of four images arranged sequentially, presents her 2016 series “Cloud Studies” which first occurred while the artist was witnessing a sunset in Rockaway Beach of her native borough of Queens. The cloud forms swirled up spontaneously, altering her immediate view and suggesting something darkly beautiful and quite moving that she needed to document. This singular event precipitated a sequence of new images numbering into the hundreds. When I say ‘clouds at sunset’ perhaps a multitude of images flip through your mind, or perhaps one event sticks in your memory. They may all be wrong. After witnessing Gottlieb’s photographs you will have a different understanding of sunsets, clouds, and everything in between. What is important to know about these image is that the event that dictated them took place not in any recognizable local, but in the same nexus where she took her image of waves, a spot some few hundred yards off the coast of Rockaway Park, New York, which is situated on the landmass of Long Island some twenty one miles from Manhattan, and her view is southerly, meaning that the use of light in the late part of the day is illuminated from the right, where the sun sets more than twenty miles to the west. This may produce an eerie scene, in which every degree of available light becomes as much the subject as the event or element in question. The range of expression in these photographs can be apollonian or stygian depending upon how the clouds swirl, some still containing sustained light from the far-off sunset, while above them darkness descends, creating an narrative moment of epic proportion.


Sharon Kagan’s paintings possess a shared power of beauty and ambivalence. They achieve a strong impression despite a mixed agenda mired as deeply in  the artist’s biases against other métiers as for her own discipline. Her work reinforces the idea that to be creatively successful one must have an attitude verging on ideology. Kagan plays with forms and with layers of perception but she also plays with our expectations, and our tangent comfort in how esthetic event must please us in an unordered fashion. Starting with generically organic forms suggested by documenting such materials as bunches of twine in semi-darkness using a digital camera, Kagan blows the image up and emphasizes the obscure sections by adding an allover grid and then meticulously delineating and drawing into the folds of the forms themselves. This creates images that are quantum in nature, both expansive and reductive depending upon the visual level at which they are perceived. Either take in a painting that measures two by ten feet, or swoop down into crevices, or into the moody background, where modulated and quantified markings inhabit as well as measure the space in and around her writhing or knot-like forms. One cannot remain ignorant of the why as well as the how in her paintings, which exist as evidence of the complexity of a perspective on form, on reality, and on the power of the creative impulse to manifest in a layered and ontologically diverse manner a reality that many may easily take for granted.


The impulse toward abstraction and the one toward realistic depiction seem mutually opposed, yet the paintings of Bobbie Moline-Kramer commingle these agendas to radical effect. Who in their right mind, when gazing at an abstract painting, would ever imagine, much less encounter the painting gazing back at them, perhaps even laughing? This is the sort of event which Moline-Kramer suggests, not merely a diffusion of painterly effects, but a visual dialogue toward the supposition of an actual presence. In almost every other form of creative endeavor considered ‘culture’ there is a degree of countenance—performers on a stage, despite the vaunted fourth wall, often find themselves peering into the eyes of the audience’s faces closest to them; in film we gaze upon the actors, taking them in as representative embodiments of our own lives. Only in some art, that is to say the great expanse of “abstract art” that stands for progress in creative vision over the interval of the last century, are we presented with an absence of necessary countenance. We are expected to realize and appreciate the boundary and enjoinder represented by the painted image that does not reflect us except in some obscure fashion. Yet we are sometimes found wanting. This is where Moline-Kramer steps up.   


The difference between reality and abstraction is like that between wakefulness and dreaming. Perception defines the first while context defines the latter. The paintings of Rebeca Calderon Pittman present the best case for bringing both together. Her works have a draftsmanlike quality that refuses to connect all the dots in a useful and sensible manner, instead creating an elliptical reality in which they viewer may either make a range of subtle connections or choose to allow the ambiguity of the work’s apparent formlessness to produce visions. Why these objects in this specific combination? Is their specificity a means of implying the strong presence of sensible and practical objects rather than transforming them into symbols? Is the world of the senses so unreliable? Pittman constructs a labyrinthine degree of encounter in which the viewer must define each step as they match elements one to another, or build mental bridges between delineated and blank spaces.


The paintings of Susan Sommer give the outward appearance of being mere gestural abstraction, yet there is more than meets the eye. Placed around the picture, almost haphazardly, are a number of color squares that look like they escaped from a grid in another painting. In truth, they are a further dimension of phenomena that are encountered in Sommer’s painterly visualizations of how the natural environment appeals to our senses, chromatic and sensuous, fleeting and dynamic, intimate and all encompassing. Her paintings seek to create an effect by which the viewer becomes completely immersed in a weld of sensation, where intuition leads the intellect against its will. If there is another artist she could be compared to, it is Corot, whose paintings of rural life were not only narrative in an elysian fashion, but explored the matter of nature as it shaped and colored these lives. Somer is involved in just such an adventure. Her works reveal the hidden color structure within all things, allowing us to walk in field and forests of our own imagining.

Artists follow the ideal embodied by the concept of form, but in each case idiosyncrasy takes over and form achieves something eminently unique. Each of the artists presented in D. Dominick Lombardi’s curated exhibition “Freeform 5” are adept in their respective dialogues with form and where it meets not only with the audience perceiving it, but with their shared epoch. “Freeform 5” is a powerful statement on the duties of form to achieve and accrue meaning for our time.