Nature plays a vital role in the abstract paintings of Jenifer Kobylarz, whose recent efforts are on display at the Edward Thorp Gallery. Her bisected pictures of interpenetrating ribbons of color have long employed botanical motifs as a compositional armature. What’s happening in the new work is that nature as symbol is increasingly subsumed by the imperatives of form. Now that they no longer advertise her iconographic inspiration, Ms. Kobylarz’s leaf-life shapes can be transformed and obscured in a manner that is all to the good. Allowing the compositions to take off on their own (sometimes confusing) tangents, she endows them with an organic independence. In a roundabout way, this approach reinforces Ms. Kobylarz’s debt to the real world, as it’s called. Nature inhabits the paintings less as a referential marker than as a developmental force; we don’t see it so much as feel its structure.
Symbol is still there in plain sight in some of the paintings, and the eye snags, unhappily, on instances of relative literalness. That doesn’t happen with Ms. Kobylarz’s smaller efforts, a couple of which-particularly the wintry Near Future (2003)-are among her finest paintings to date. When they’re small, these puzzle-like compositions achieve complexity, tautness and humor. Ms. Kobylarz loses her touch with anything bigger than 22 by 28 inches.
The constant is her palette: Free-ranging, keyed high, articulate, it accomplishes subtle shifts in temperature. An area of white will take an unexpected swerve from warm and creamy to cool and stark; a fleshy orange-pink will gain in presence from an abutting, less physical shade of the same color. When Ms. Kobylarz brings the same crisp inventiveness to shape that she does to color, the paintings will really take off. In the meantime, she’ll just have to settle for being one of our most watchable talents.
Jenifer Kobylarz: Recent Paintings is at the Edward Thorp Gallery, 210 11th Avenue, sixth floor, until Oct. 18.
Lost in Space
Elliott Green, whose works on paper are on view in the back room at Tibor de Nagy, suffers from Francis Bacon syndrome: an emphasis on the figure so engulfing that it troubles the pictorial flow. The Bacon analogy isn’t a perfect fit. Mr. Green’s pinched and punchy figures are less horrific than Bacon’s-less sensational, too. Comedy of manners, not existentialist bombast, is Mr. Green’s specialty. His cartoonish oddballs-with their muscular pinkies, languid stares and duck-like gaits-are types forever on the verge of embarrassment. Mr. Green loves them for the awkward situations they stumble into.
The trouble with his paintings is that Mr. Green doesn’t know where (or how) to locate figures in space.Delineatedin smudgy graphite, they’re locked into a flattened-out realm of retro-geometry. The juxtaposition of drawn figures and painted background may be a way ofsignaling social anomie. Too often, it feels like the handiwork of a painter unsure of where it is his misfits aren’t supposed to fit in. He solves the problem, in the best pieces at de Nagy, by placing collages of recycled drawings against fields of faux Ab-Ex calligraphy. Unambitious,pleasing and frankly decorative, these pictures endow Mr. Green’s caricatured goofs with integrity, and perhaps even humanity. Sometimes artistic gain is achieved not by wrestling with obstacles, but by ignoring them altogether.
Elliott Green: The Lost Episodes is at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, until Oct. 4.
Judy Pfaff calls her installation at Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art Neither Here Nor There . Would that every artist provided such an easy opening for critical comment. Ms. Pfaff’s rambling installation collapses under the weight of its aspirations. Where to begin in describing it? I-beams and diagrams, deadwood and lily pads, spindles of plaster and strings of yellow, on the floor and up to the ceiling-it’s all meant to stagger the senses, and it does, though not for long. Aiming to create a “dramatic and sensuous environment” that reflects our “unsettled, unstable world,” Ms. Pfaff plays into the oldest cliché in the book: that art about chaos should itself be chaotic.
Except that it’s not really chaotic. The planning and construction of Neither Here Nor There is meticulous. Given the constraints of architecture and the tyranny of gallery schedules, how could it not be? Ms. Pfaff wants to warn us that world is going to hell in a handbasket, and like most artists out to make a Major Statement, she overdoes it. Neither Here Nor There goes all over the place, yet doesn’t arrive anywhere. The confusion-indeed, the desperation-arises from an artist’s overtaxed imagination. Installation is “not exactly a painting” and “not exactly sculpture,” so what is it? Instead of giving shape to installation in positive, concrete terms, Ms. Pfaff throws a lot of stuff out there, hoping some of it will stick. Obviously, she urgently needs to put the world into focus. She should be so urgent about her art.
Judy Pfaff: Neither Here Not There is at Ameringer and Yohe Fine Art, 20 West 57th Street, until Oct. 11.