Abstract Expressionism developed through a New York school of painters and established an art movement born in the United States. Let us consider Elaine De Kooning and Grace Hartigan, whose paintings exude a sense of energy in the paint application, or Lee Krasner’s work, filled with abstract forms that feel reminiscent of a fantastical landscape. However, in the machismo world of the Abstract Expressionists, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell are historically mentioned as making important contributions to this movement – at this point in time, we should acknowledge a more equitable list of artists contributing to this movement.
The Hudson Valley region has many artists that have made their life here, including artists whose work is inspired from the Abstract Expressionists. Barbara Gordon’s art must be included in this group and it is a pleasure to see a full body of her work in this solo show, “Active Engagement – Testing Boundaries.” The exhibit is aptly named, as active engagement has been the consistent thread for the artistic output seen in the show and evident over a lifetime of her artistic career. Barbara Gordon states: “My academic grounding, at Cooper Union, was firmly in the abstract expressionist tradition, in which figurative work was a virtual taboo.”
The artworks in this exhibit show the growth of the artist’s vision after her early studies. For instance, the artwork, “Faith in a Seed 1,” utilizes a variety of materials she uses as her medium: papers, cardboard, scraps of wood, and paint. Through collaging of the materials and overpainting, the drips and faint markings are composed around a wood fragment with rusted nails. Many of the pieces for the exhibit the artist has composed wood framing devices, pieced together from wood scraps from her barn. For instance, “Bent Tree Construction” has vivid hues of blue and orange establishing a dynamic palette, while the wood pieces carefully fitted together add the touch of the human hand to the composition. Thoughtfully layered cardboard, watercolor papers and paint give the work a feeling of a precious relic.
Gordon’s dynamic painting style is evident in “Notes on a Red Headed Woodpecker,” the delicate nuances of the background creates a dimensional foil for the energetic red and black slashes, which are reminiscent of gestures seen in Franz Kline’s works. This piece, however, exudes an other-worldly serenity where that energy can abide. In the painting, “Blue,” the artist uses an energetic paint application, including drips overpainted with layers of color: blue, sap green, and red compete for space in a composition that seems inspired by the landscape.
The exhibit is rich with visions that the artist has captured working out of her Accord studio, which she described as her artistic practice: “Now, being directly in nature, living along a rail trail, surrounded by silence and the constantly changing light in the land, mountains and sky I strive for a synthesis of pure abstraction with the concrete, specific images of nature, animals, and people that have interested me since childhood.”